Born Florence Italy, in 1926. Composer musician Piero Umiliani had originally studied law, fully intending to make a career as a solicitor. His keen interest in music however was to distract him from this profession and led him to begin to play the piano. He had been teaching himself the instrument since he was a child and by the time he was 14yrs of age had become quite competent at performing. It was also during his childhood that Umiliani decided that it was jazz music that particularly attracted him. He studied with Vitto Frazzi, and later graduated from The Luigi Cherubini Consevatory in Florence with degrees in counterpoint and fugue. During the 1950,s, Umiliani decided to change location and move to Rome, on arrival in the Italian Capital the aspiring composer set himself up as a pianist, arranger and orchestra director. In the early part of 1958, Umiliani made his first recording, this was an LP entitled DIXIELAND IN NAPLES, which was released on the RCA recording label. Soon after the release of this recording, Umiliani was approached by
Film director, Mario Monicelli who asked the composer if he would compose the score for a film entitled I SOLITI IGNOTI, The film was a comedy, and was the first film in Italy to have a score that was completely jazz music. Umiliani, s music was so successful that it led to other assignments, which included film scores and commissions for jazz compositions. Although I SOLITI IGNOTI is looked upon as the composer’s first cinematic encounter, Umiliani had in fact worked on a film some three years previous, as he recalled. ”I was studying in Florence, and I was asked to write a piece for a documentary called IL PITTORI DEL DOMENICA, this was produced and also directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the theme that I composed PICCOLA SUITE–AMERICANA PER 4 ANCIE was not relay that melodic, quite avante garde I think, but at this time I was still young and enjoyed experimenting”. Many collectors of soundtracks associate Umiliani with scores for comedies, thrillers and films that fit into the category of being soft porn or striptease.
Movies in all of these categories were produced in their abundance in Italy during the 1960,s thru to the mid 1980,s. Umiliani,s style and musical approach was very much suited to these types of films, his scores being mostly light in their construction and being influenced with jazz flavours, and it was probably due to this style or sound that was realised by the composer that the majority of his music is now being labelled as Exotica or Lounge music, and is also finding its way onto countless compilations that are easy listening. Umiliani has become a highly respected and widely known jazz musician and composer. His jazz efforts often outweighing and overshadowing his works for the cinema. The composer’s love of jazz is very evident and often manifests itself within his music for film. On many occasions this jazz style forming the musical foundation for his motion picture scores. But it has sometimes been difficult for the composer to incorporate jazz into his work for film.
” It has always been something of a task to convince filmmakers that maybe jazz could be the right style of music for their movie, I have always been fortunate enough to be able to work with directors and producers that I have had a good working relationship with. But many times they have asked me to create a grand more symphonic sound, when really jazz music would have served the picture much better”. One particular piece of music that the composer is readily associated with is the quirky and somewhat offbeat and infectious composition MAH,NA,MAH,NA. The tune was originally released in1968, and has over the years been re-released on many occasions, and has become something of a musical calling card for the composer. ” MAH,NA,MAH,NA. is the most simple and elementary music that one could write, so maybe that is why people have found it so appealing over the past 30 years or so, the voice on the song is that of my good friend and fellow composer Alessandro Alessandroni. I have worked with him and his choir on many things; Sandro has a great talent, but maybe is not recognised as much as he should be”. Said Umiliani.MAH,NA,MAH,NA. Was given a new lease of life in the 1980,s and charted high in the British charts when Jim Henson’s Muppets gave it an airing, re-introducing the peculiar sounding tune to a whole new generation of listeners. As a composer Umiliani is very much like the proverbial chameleon, adapting and changing his styles for each project, enhancing and gracing each movie with his music, and applying his own individual mark upon it. He has also worked with and had his compositions performed by such great artistes as, Chet Baker, Helen Mirril and Gato Barbieri. The film music career of Piero Umiliani spanned some four decades, and during the composers later years he still continued to compose for the cinema and also write sophisticated and tasteful jazz, that was modern yet easily interpreted and understood, and above all listenable and entertaining. The Maestro passed away in Florence on February 16th 2001, aged 75, He will be missed by all who knew him and worked with him.