This natty new three-CD collection features the complete film scores by Piero Umiliani (1926-2001) who was the first Italian composer to bring jazz to the big screen. His friendship with legendary trumpeter Chet Baker was fortuitous in this regard.

“Twenty-eight years have gone by since I first met Chet Baker, and six have passed by since I last saw him,”  Umiliani once wrote, as reproduced in a note herein. “He was a sad and dramatic man, his only joy was to play. When I first met him he was extremely sweet and only spoke English but later, after spending time in jail in Volterra, he started to speak Italian.” 

Umiliani is the man who composed the instantly recognisable Mah Na Mah Na in 1968, later popularised to ubiquitous effect by The Muppets. If you are of a certain age, you will know it, whether you like it or not.

CD 1 features the music for the movie, Audace Colpo dei Soliti   (aka Fiasco in Milan) which was filmed in October 1959 in Rome, where all the movies concerned were filmed. The disc also incorporates the music for I Soloti Ignoti, aka Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) and the score for the 1960 film, Urlatorialla Sbarra.

On this first disc, the great trumpeter reveals an impish, roguish side to his playing, in some contrast to the wistful sound with which he is forever associated. But, of course, he can do wistful too, as in that snatch of song, Arrivederci, taken from the Urlatorialla Sbarra score. Chet sings the tender ballad in English, and plays trumpet along with sweet violins, as snatches of the two actors - the lovers of the piece - weave in and out.

The soundtrack to Romano Ferrara’s film, Intrigo a Los Angeles is the matter of CD two, while CD three features the orchestral score to the Franco Rossi film Smog, with the husky Helen Merrill on vocals.

Born in 1929 in Oklahoma, Baker died in Amsterdam in 1988, after falling from the window of his second-story room at the Hotel Prins Hendrik. Heroin and cocaine were found in his hotel room and in his blood in a subsequent autopsy. The musician had taken to hard drugs in the 1950s, but these records show no ill-effects in the work of a true professional, accompanied by a variety of Italian sidemen.

Paddy Kehoe