Monday Notes

Natalino Otto, Mille lire al mese. Jazz Italian style

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Leggi in Italiano

[Monday’s Notes No. 112] Mille lire al mese is an Italian song from 1939 that imitates the American repertoire not only in music but also in the subject matter. As in many American songs during the years of the Great Depression, the central theme is in fact money. Let us listen to the performance by Natalino Otto, one of the first Italian jazz performers.

Just like the American standards it is inspired by, the piece has an introduction or verse [A] that establishes the key of the piece A♭, then it moves to the relative minor key Fm and finally ends with the cadence that prepares the return to the initial key.

Mille lire al mese, introduzione

This is followed by the refrain or chorus [B] with the main theme of the song, in which the harmony moves between the I and V degrees.

Mille lire al mese, tema principale

In the central part [C], the piece modulates to the IV degree D♭, while in the final part [D] it returns to the initial key A♭. The harmony of the piece is very simple and resembles that of some American standards.

The melody, on the other hand, does not really sound jazzy. Although it touches the 6th and 7th of the A♭ chord, thus notes that create a certain tension, rhythmically it is too static and uniform to really make one think of a jazz piece.

Natalino Otto
Natalino Otto

Natalino Otto worked as a musician on ships to America and studied the standards repertoire, then attempted a similar repertoire in Italian. Despite this, in his vocal style the Italian bel canto prevails over swing and the approach to melody is decidedly Italian.

Another difference is related to the subject of the song, money, which in American songs is often associated with success and is spent on nice clothes, parties and luxury cars. In Mille lire al mese, on the other hand, a more fatalistic attitude prevails. The protagonist dreams of an inheritance from his American uncle, money that he would invest – as a good Italian – in buying a house.

Mille lire al mese, una banconota degli anni '40
An Italian banknote from the 1940s

From America may not have arrived the heredity of a rich uncle, but it certainly arrived a rich heritage of music and songs. Natalino Otto was one of the first to be enthusiastic about the American repertoire and helped to popularize jazz music in Italy.

Until next Monday

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