Enzo Jannacci

By Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

Enzo Jannacci’s (1935-2013) theatrical style and love for his hometown of Milan and its dialect inspired him to sing about the urban proletariat and those in the margins of society. During the years of the so-called “economic miracle” of Italy (1958-1960s), when crime appeared at once disorganized and romantic, Jannacci was both a talented cantautore and a histrionic interpreter, lending his voice (but also his acts on stage) to songs written by or in collaboration with other authors. Examples include the 1964 hit “Quella cosa in Lombardia,” by Fiorenzo Carpi and poet Franco Fortini, and “La luna è una lampadina” by Carpi and 1997 Nobel prize winner Dario Fo. Jannacci co-signed “L’Armando” with Fo, and gave birth to long-lasting collaborations with him as well as Giorgio Gaber, often producing “masterpieces of pop Surrealism, demented urban stories that recount the transition from the simpler, paternalistic Italy of the 1950s to the neo-capitalist country of the 1960s” (Carrera, 331).

Although Jannacci’s later output was mostly in Italian, his tragicomic and alienating style never lost the visionary and overwhelming energy that so mesmerized the public. Songs such as “Vincenzina e la fabbrica” (“Vincenzina and the Factory,”1974) employ a rather classical Italian melodic style to describe the feelings of a young woman from southern Italy working in a Milan factory. If here Jannacci exposed the jarring contradictions and hardships of industrial society in a large metropolis of northern Italy, in the walking blues “Quelli che…” he subtly mocks the indifference and hypocrisy so common among Italians. A professing cardiologist (Jannacci even had collaborations with Christian Barnard), a gifted pianist, a genius songwriter, a brilliant actor and screenwriter, Jannacci’s signature songs combine cleverness with nonsense and social critique. While jazz and swing elements are a a meaningful part of his musical style, an absurd humor and sense of bitter realism loom large, making Enzo Jannacci one of the most versatile, profound and influential authors and interpreters of Italy’s canzone d’autore.

– Carrera, Alessandro. “Folk music and popular song from the nineteenth century to the 1990s” in The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian Culture, ed. by Z. Barański and R. West, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 325-335.

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