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Gianmaria Testa

 B i o g r a p h y

Gianmaria Testa was born near Cuneo (in Italy’s Piedmont region) in 1958. He grew up in a family of farmers and taught himself to play guitar, writing his first songs as soon as he learned his chords. Gianmaria played and sang in several local rock bands before discovering his true, solitary vocation. In 1993 and 1994 he won first prize at the Recanati Festival for emerging singer-songwriters, where he met a French producer, Nicole Courtois, who took a liking to his demo tape. His first CD, Montgolfières, came out on Label Bleu in 1995. Gianmaria’s warm, dusky voice tells stories of wind and memories, earth and fog, objects that soar from one horizon to another and ladies in train stations (“Donne nelle stazioni”) who head off on someone else’s arm without looking back. His music is personal and richly melodic, flecked with accents of tango, bossa nova, habañera and jazz, but as spare and essential as a pencil sketch, imparting great beauty with simplicity and directness.

On the heels of Montgolfière’s superb reviews, Gianmaria made his February 1996 début at one of Paris’s most important clubs, New Morning. He showed himself to be an artist of great presence, communicating the joy of making music with such outstanding sidemen as David Lewis (trombone), Jon Handelsman (sax, clarinet), François and Louis Moutin (bass and drums), Leonardo Sanchez (guitar) and René Michel (accordion, piano).

In October 1996 Gianmaria released his second CD: Extra-muros, the very first release on Tôt ou Tard, Warner France’s new label devoted to songwriters. His voice seemed to have gained new richness and depth, and there was a new freedom to the instrumental playing, featuring his comrades in art from New Morning. The driving rhythms of jazz, lively fanfares, piano solos, sudden silences: they all served to emphasize Gianmaria’s sincerity and his subtle, elegant way of telling tales of melancholy and quiet joy.

In February 1997, five months after the release of Extra-muros, Gianmaria gave a concert at the Olympia. He was one of the last musicians to perform at the legendary Paris music hall before its renovation. The engagement marked a key moment in his young career, which, in the space of two years, saw him go from being a completely unknown Italian singer-songwriter to making a chance début in France to becoming a runaway success. Still, those familiar with his CDs and live appearances couldn’t help but note the composure, confidence, sincerity and utter lack of self-importance with which he made these enormous strides.

Thanks to his appearance at the Olympia, the Italian press finally began to take note of Gianmaria: critics were first surprised, then unanimous in hailing this important new voice in the Italian singer songwriter tradition. In subsequent months, Gianmaria undertook tours in France, Italy, Portugal, and Canada: roughly a hundred dates, in small clubs and major theatres, nearly all capped with prolonged standing ovations.

In February 1999 Gianmaria released his third CD: Lampo (Tôt ou Tard), recorded in Italy and France. The title alludes to both lightening and the flash of a camera: a luminous instant, short-lived, but leaving an indelible trace in one’s memory. Lampo is a disc of micro-stories, of everyday people and things that take on surprising dimensions: lovers in Rome, the moon, chestnut trees, chalk dust left on doorsteps to mark the steps of visitors... Once again, critics were unanimous in welcoming a magnificent album, alive with a quiet, gentle swing, seemingly suspended in a dimension outside of time, “lunar” and earthy at the same time. For Lampo, Gianmaria invited some of his favorite musicians to put their stamp on certain cuts: Glenn Ferris (trombone) for “Petite reine” and “Lampo,” Vincent Segal (cello) for “Lucia di notte” and “Comete,” and Riccardo Tesi (folk accordion) and Rita Marcotulli (piano) for “Gli amanti di Roma.” David Lewis led the core of outstanding sidemen providing the fundamental color of the album.

In celebration of Lampo’s artistic success, Gianmaria decided to undertake another series of concerts at New Morning in March 1999. The end of the year brought additional dates in France with a new quartet, consisting of Gianmaria backed up by René Michel (piano, accordion), Leonardo Sanchez (guitar), and Roberto Tormo (bass). Gianmaria also gave duo concerts with Pier Mario Giovannone, a friend and guitar virtuoso.

Gianmaria saw in 2000 with a memorable series of concerts at Alba’s Teatro Sociale, with special guests including Enrico Rava, Rita Marcotulli, Arthur H and the Mancuso brothers. In February he sold out Rome’s Teatro Valle with his Italian quartet: Enzo Pietropaoli (bass), Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet) and Pier Mario Giovannone (guitar). May 2000 found Gianmaria back at the Olympia, opening for Israeli chanteuse Noa and scoring an overwhelming success.

Later that year, in October, he made a new CD of songs and poems, Il valzer di un giorno. The CD represented a real gamble: solo voice backed up with acoustic guitar (Pier Mario Giovannone), relying solely on the quality of the material and not on “special effects.” It was Gianmaria’s first CD recorded and produced entirely in Italy and distributed via alternative channels: Italy’s 45,000 newsstands. As it happens, Il valzer di un giorno sold 20,000 copies in its very first month of release and needed to be re pressed immediately. It included two new songs (“Piccoli fiumi” and “Il valzer di un giorno”) as well as readings of Giovannone’s marvelous poetry. Following the release of Il valzer di un giorno, Gianmaria played Italy’s most prestigious theatres, including Turin’s Teatro Regio, Rome’s Teatro Valle, Naples’ Galleria Toledo, Bologna’s Teatro Duse, Florence’s Teatro alla Pergola, and Genoa’s Teatro Gustavo Modena.

In March 2001, Il valzer di un giorno, now entitled La valse d’un jour, was released by Harmonia Mundi as a CD-book in France, the rest of Europe, Canada and the United States. To coincide with its release, Gianmaria played two sold-out dates at Paris’s Café de la Danse; his concerts and the CD received extensive coverage in Le Monde and other leading publications. To date, La valse d’un jour has sold more than 80,000 copies, and was eventually released by Harmonia Mundi in Italy through normal distribution channels, given ever-growing demand.

Other 2001 highlights included an evening dedicated to Nobel Prize winner José Saramango, for which Gianmaria, with Riccardo Tesi and Piero Ponzo, composed music to accompany a reading of Saramango’s Tale of an Unknown Island; tours of Austria, Switzerland and Germany; and a concert show in celebration of Fred Buscaglione, Guarda che luna!, with Enrico Rava, Banda Osiris, Stefano Bollani, Enzo Pietropaoli and Piero Ponzo, produced by Produzioni Fuorivia and Turin’s Teatro Stabile. Guarda che luna! was chosen to open the 2002 Umbria Jazz Festival and also toured throughout 2002-03. Along with Roberto Cipelli and Paolo Fresu, and with the participation of Attilio Zanchi and Gianni Cazzola, Gianmaria created Omaggio a Leo Ferrè in 2002. That same year saw the worldwide re-release of Montgolfières by Harmonia Mundi in deluxe CD-book packaging.

Gianmaria’s latest album, Altre latitudini (Le Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) was released in October 2003 in Europe and Canada. Its January 2004 United States release won a rave review in Time Out New York and extensive airplay on WNYC, the most listened-to NPR station in America. The “latitudes” of the title are those of the heart, explored in fourteen songs of love lost and found, backed up by some of today’s finest musicians (including Mario Brunello, Enrico Rava, Rita Marcotulli, David Lewis, Gabriele Mirabassi, Luciano Biondini and Fausto Mesolella). The fifth CD of Gianmaria’s remarkable career, Altre latitudini is an album of maturity: of his voice, more expressive than ever; of his texts, still sober, essential, and evocative; and of his music, with ever more distinctive melodies.

Following the release of Altre latitudini, Gianmaria toured Italy, France (including a week at the Café de la Danse), and Germany. Summer 2004 will bring several concerts in Canada.

In October 2006 Gianmaria Testa has released his new album, “Da questa parte del mare”, a turning point in his artistic production. It's a “concept album”, wholly focussed on a single topic. Thus, the album has been thought as a novel and the songs are its chapters. All of them together tell a story.
The plot is that of modern migrations. It is a poetic meditation, a series of unbiased and non-demagogic reflections on recent years mass migrations. Gianmaria reflects on the reasons why so many people undergo the sufferings of leaving their own country, crossing deserts and seas looking for a better life. He explores the meanings of “land” and “country”, the feelings of uprooting and dismay linked to the idea of being forced to move away, irrespectively of the country we live in.
The new album is produced by Paola Farinetti for Produzioni Fuorivia. Greg Cohen is the artistic producer .

Bill Frisell and Paolo Fresu are the special guests together with Gianmaria's “historical” players: Gabriele Mirabassi , Enzo Pietropaoli , Piero Ponzo , Philippe Garcia , Claudio Dadone , Luciano Biondini .

After the new album's presentation in France and in Paris (L'Européen – 17-21 October 2006) Gianmaria had a long tour in Italy in November, 2006, February and March 2007, Germany and Austria (early December 2006), Holland (May 2007) and Canada (July 2007).

 A l b u m s

Il valzer di un giorno (Harmonia Mundi/Egea, 2001)