Title: Moderato Swing
Musical Direction : Piero Umiliani
Director: Lino Procacci
Dates: From 01/03/1961 to 04/11/1961
Jan. 3 1961, at 9:25 pm Piero Umiliani starts the ''Moderato Swing'' TV Show.
The jazz vocalist Helen Merrill starts to recording her part of the show titled ''Parole e Musica''.
“Moderato Swing fills an empty space in the Italian TV. TV programs lack a show dealing with a particular music genre that can be placed between easy listening music and classical music: tomorrow Piero Umiliani is going to fill this empty space”.
The newspaper La Nazione (dated 2 January 1961) opens the page in the show section with this title. Actually, this program is not created to fill a cultural void but to fulfil the company economic needs. In October 1960, RAI TV formed a big Orchestra for the Canzonissima show. This orchestra works only 3 days a week. At this point the management, in order to employ the musicians during the rest of the week, decide to produce a show and broadcast it in the late evening hours, using old studio sets from storage in order to keep the budget under one million lire for each episode.
According to Mr. Giannantonio, at the time responsible for the RAI Easy Listening section, Piero Umiliani is the right man for an inexpensive but high quality TV program, the same qualities that the musician had previously showed in the program “Il Mattatore”. When Giannantonio, Umiliani and director Luigi Procacci meet to discuss the project, they come up with many ideas. The program is becoming a first category show with music and singers as main protagonists. Teleritmo is the original title but it is soon changed to Moderato Swing, where the term “moderate” is highly appreciated by the RAI top management.
The recordings end at the beginning of November 1960 and on January 3, 1961 the first episode of Moderato Swing is broadcasted at 9:25 pm, at a better hour than originally planned.
Piero Umiliani & the quartet ''2+2 of Paola Orlandi'' during the section ''Musica a Tre Luci''.
The show reached a very good rate on the newspaper ''Telesera''.
Each episode lasts 45 minutes and is composed by 8 parts, divided as follows:
1) A Music Homage to… dedicated to one or more instruments, with Umiliani and the orchestra as the main protagonists.
2) A Voice on the Pentagram: the protagonist is a singer- song writer like Giorgio Gaber, Gianni Meccia, Gino Paoli, and Umberto Bindi among others.
3) On the stage… a section devoted to dancing with the Cha-Cha, Mambo, Conga and other dances.
4) Naples, Yesterday and Today: with the romantic voice of Ugo Calise contrasted by Peppino di Capri’s twist and rock style.
5) Words and Music: probably the high point of the show, where New York singer Helen Merrill interprets the classical American jazz repertoire like “Night and Day” and “Autumn in New York” accompanied by the Piero Umiliani orchestra. Actor Fernando Cajati reads the lyrics of the songs translated into Italian. This section inspires RCA to release a record entitled “Parole e Musica” (“Words and Music”), one of the best jazz albums in 1961.
6) Music for Your Dreams: jazz themes interpreted in night club style for cheek to cheek dancing
7) Music in Three Lights: it means the performance of the same theme in three totally different versions: a Dixieland style, a version by the 2+2 Paola Orlandi vocal quartet and finally a standard version.
Here, singer Jenny Luna usually performs a classical Latin dance like the “Conga Majč”.
8) Jazz Made in Italy: every week young jazz musicians play a theme from their
repertoire. Oscar Valdambrini, Gianni Basso, Franco Cerri, Dino Piana all visit their friend Piero in the Studio Uno in RAI. This is the most daring section of the program, today almost remembered by fans as a mystical TV event.
Without any doubt Helen Merrill is the star of the show. She not only sings the greatest hits of American jazz vocals but also interprets Italian classics, among which an extraordinary “Estate” by Bruno Martino.
Other Italian and international stars participate in the show, like the elegant Carol Danell with “Kiss Me Kiss Me” (she also records an album with Umiliani), Gian Costello and Johnny Desmond (whose real name is Giovanni De Simone, born in Detroit from Sicilian parents).
The first episodes are well received by both audience and critics but, nevertheless, there are some controversies in RAI. Some managers think that the show is “too oriented towards jazz” (from “Sorrisi and Canzoni TV” magazine dated January 28, 1961), like it was a mortal sin. The twelve episodes originally programmed are reduced to ten and then, after the forth episode, there is an interruption. The show risks being cancelled then, luckily, it continues, even if not broadcasted as regularly as originally planned.
Jazz music is not considered the music of the devil like the blues, however it is considered “difficult music”. Umiliani, when interviewed by Arturo Gismondi at the end of a preview for the RAI managers, states that “The show is about songs and easy listening music, not about jazz music like someone said”. (“Noi Donne” magazine, 13 November 1960).
The 10th and last episode is broadcasted on April 11, 1961 and even if the 11 and 12 episode are cancelled from the program schedule, “Moderato Swing” remains one of the most modern music programs in the history of Italian TV. It demonstrates, or at least it tries to, that music on TV can be something totally different than classical or easy listening and still be successful.