Grande Elenco Musicisti

Great List of Musicians

Grande Elenco Musicisti, or GEM, was a European big band conveying high-profile musicians and composers into one ensemble. It was founded by Tommaso Vittorini, who also provided most of the scores, in September 1977. The band lasted until July 1981, had three editions rather different from one another in personnel and style, and played mostly during festivals. Despite the short time it lasted, the GEM is still remembered for its experimental outset, and for setting up a connection between European music languages and improvisation.

Birth Of A Band

In September 1977, a Creative Musicians’ Workshop took place in Modena, Italy, after Filippo Bianchi’s initiative. The European jazz scene was quickly turning into something that could no longer be simply called “jazz”, as the term itself was getting less and less restrictive of a style. The idea of gathering some representative musicians – who also had a say in the structural aspects of improvised music – had the ambitious goal of finding a new way to write and play what was about to be called “European Creative and Improvised Music”. Unfortunately, those musicians in Modena had just a handful of days to get to know one another, write scores, rehearse them and play in front of an audience.

However, that experience had a very stimulating impact on many participants. Vittorini, who was already involved in composing and arranging for large ensembles, wanted to create a permanent workshop of musicians who were also composers, with the objective to explore a new balance between improvisation and written music.

The name of the band came after a thick phone book where Vittorini kept all his contacts with musicians around Europe, sort by instrument, which read “Grande Elenco Musicisti” (Great List Of Musicians) on the cover.

Laboratorio della Quercia, 1978

L to R: Maurizio Giammarco, Kenny Wheeler, Roswell Rudd, Eugenio Colombo, Alberto Corvini, Steve Lacy, Enrico Rava


First Edition

After a few weeks of scoring and some days of rehearsals the first concerts went sold out in January 1978 in Rome, at the St. Louis Jazz Center.

Compositions had very flexible structures, with little or no background under open solos. Written parts were extended and rich in counterpoint. Many solos were open, and there were collective improvisations. There were references to traditional music –  such as marching bands, balkanic and arab music, and circus. Very little room was given to the language of American jazz, especially under the rhythmic aspects. But the ensemble was still a big band, so most arrangements and voicings reflected the skills gained previously, through practicing the big band style.

Many musicians in the GEM were sharing other experiences at the same time, playing in smaller bands, studying and practicing together, or simply hanging out to listen to rare World Music recordings.

During its first two years of activity the GEM performed at festivals such as Rome, Cremona and Lovere.

1977-1980 Personnel

Tommaso Vittorini, alto & soprano sax
Maurizio Giammarco, Alberto Mariani, tenor & soprano sax
Eugenio Colombo, baritone sax & flute
Giancarlo Maurino, baritone sax

Alberto Corvini, Massimo Bartoletti, trumpets
Franco Piana, Michelangelo Piazza, trumpets
Danilo Terenzi, Giancarlo Schiaffini, trombones
Stefano Mastrangelo, Angelo Orsini, french horns
Rocco Camera, tuba

Alvin Curran, synthesizer
Marzio Zoffoli, guitar
Antonello Salis, piano
Michele Iannaccone, vibes & percussions
Enzo Pietropaoli, bass
Roberto Gatto, drums
Nicola Bernardini, sound engineer

The GEM at St.Louis, January 1978

The GEM at St.Louis, January 1978

Middle Edition

The 1980 edition had a renovated ensemble and a very different program. Some of the musicians who were in the original ensemble were not available at the season opening, so there were substitutions. In the music there were more written parts and a little less room for improvisation. Open or collective solos were scarce. But the main change was that the music was much less rooted in the European tradition. Funky and salsa were mixed with ballads and even reggae, in a program in which the lineup, the order of the tunes, was planned even since the composition stage.
Vittorini was pursuing another path, blending the music with contemporary ingredients instead of traditional ones. It split the audience evenly: those who loved it, said the band was on Frank Zappa’s steps – but those who were used to the previous, very open and informal music, simply hated it. Despite a summer tour this edition was, artistically, a time of standby.

1980 Personnel

Sandro Satta, alto sax
Maurizio Urbani, tenor sax
Tommaso Vittorini, baritone sax

Massimo Bartoletti, Michelangelo Piazza, trumpets
Danilo Terenzi, Virgilio Fraternali, trombones

Michele Ascolese, Fernando Fera, guitars
Rita Marcotulli, piano
Enzo Pietropaoli, bass
Alfredo Minotti, percussions
Fulvio Maras, drums

Clara Murtas, vocals

GEM 1980

Third and Last Edition

In 1981 the GEM reshaped again. After the unexpected initial success of the first edition (and the tepid response of the second one), it was time to put together the musical experience that had been collected. New music had been written in the meantime, conveying the arranging experimentation from the 1980 program and the “open structure” concept of the early years.
Under the composition profile, the reference to traditional music came back strongly, but in a settled shape, in a sense that musicians were not necessarily required to know how a Serbian brass band would pronounce certain phrases, nor what Gamelan scale they were required to simulate. No one in the band was forced to listen to World Music, as it happened in 1977, the notes would lead the way and the rest was left to the musicians’ sensibility.
Written parts were simplified to yield room for interpretation, and for the sake of a more compact ensemble. This remained Vittorini’s commitment through his future experiences with live groups, whether they were small combos or symphony orchestras.
A short Spring tour, with the tagline “Eight Months In The Foreign Legion Would Change Anybody”, made the band recover its public’s trust, and record a small number of decent live tracks, who are still unpublished – but in the works.

1981 Personnel
Sandro Satta, alto sax
Maurizio Urbani, Tommaso Vittorini, tenor sax
Roberto Ottini, baritone sax

Alberto Corvini, Massimo Bartoletti, trumpets
Danilo Terenzi, Virgilio Fraternali, trombones

Michele Ascolese, Fernando Fera, guitars
Antonello Salis, piano & accordion
Enzo Pietropaoli, bass
Alfredo Minotti, percussions
Fulvio Maras, drums

Leaflet for the last concert at Teatro Olimpico

Leaflet for the last concert at Teatro Olimpico


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