Pepito and Picchi Pignatelli by Verinha Ottoni

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Usually, I follow Jazz in Italy. For my first Jazz concert, I went to the Umbria Jazz Festival – I went to the inauguration day – travelling from Roma with Pepito and Picchi Pignatelli. I was a much younger women at that time. There was good food, good spaces, and GREAT Jazz players! For years Miles Davis was in the stadium playing for masses of people who had come from all over the world to hear him. I loved meeting Gil Evans and the year he played with Sting in the stadium was beautiful. From Umbria Jazz we went to Pescara Jazz, then to Roma Jazz Festival and in the winter I went to Jazz clubs. The clubs that I remember most were Pepito and Picci’s club. Their first club was called Blue Note, then they had the Jazz Music In. I used to work in the cloakroom at the Blue Note (in the 70’s) and I used to charge 1,000 lire when all Pepito’s aristocrat friends would come into the club. Coming from the hills of Mina Gerais, I fell for the charms of a Roma Borghese Prince and a Sicilian Prince Lanza Scala. Particularly as regards to the Borghese Prince, the bloodline goes back to Roman times. All I can really say about my experience with the Princes’ was that their blue sperm was most memorable. I did also have on my list some ‘blue blood’ counts and dukes but the Princes’ where ‘top rank’. I must say though I have kissed a lot of frogs that did not turn out to be princes.

I have asked many people that used to know Pepito and Picchi to send me some memories and jokes from those days to go on my website but they have all refused. I have some photos of Pepito as a young man. He was a controversial, colourful person, for it was rare to find a prince (“Principi del Sacro Romano Impero”) who played drums. He was not a particularly good drummer, but all the great Jazz musicians loved to play with him because of his passion and great love for the music. He was a drinker, liked lots of women and used to swear a lot when he got drunk. He used to dress and think like a prince but didn’t have the money to behave like one. Finally, after borrowing money from his aristocratic friends, which he never paid back, he was cut from society for his bad behaviour. Everything went wrong in his life and he died so young; he was only 48. But I will remember Picchi and Pepito as two of the funniest and nicest people that I have ever met in Italy. But their passion for Jazz was their downfall, for because of it they ended up losing everything.

I can remember a family Christmas with Picchi’s family in Parioli with the most delicious turkey. Picchi had a beautiful name – Maria Giulia – which she didn’t like and changed it to Picchi. I never could understand why she did that because I really like the name Giulia. Also at the dinner was a Basset Hound called Pippo, a cat, and Picchi’s sweet parents. Picchi went to school in Switzerland and as a child had a driver to take her to school. She was one of the beauties of the 60’s in Rome. Giorgio Forratini was one of her admirers and other many men lost their head for Picchi, but she had an immensely devoted love for Pepito (even when he would be drunk and obnoxious). I remember I went to work in Palermo in Sicily long after Pepito’s death and Picchi asked me to go to the cemetery for her. She could not remember were his tomb was; she only remembered Pepito showing her that it would be next to his father when he died. Picchi wanted me to go there to visit his tomb and make sure that she had a place under him in the private chapel of the “Aragone Cortez Pignatelli Family”. The gate of the chapel was in metal with the family coat-of-arms. All Pepito’s family was there. The beautiful chapel in the cemetery is along side all the Sicilian noble families (the cemetery is small but very exclusive). I loved the place, with its greenery and flowers it was all in very good taste.

It was with some difficulty that I finally found the cemetery. Something that caught my attention was a tombstone of one of Pepito’s rich aunts with her name and date of birth on it, but her date of death was blank. She was still alive!! I found Picchi’s place and let her know that her place was still there. She felt comforted knowing that she had a space under her beloved husband and would be placed next to him for all eternity; unless, of course, an earthquake separated them, which is very common for this area.

Of my memories of Pepito, I loved when he used to tell about his father’s second wife and about when he was a small boy and used to clean his axe in the curtains of his father’s villa. He would make the funniest faces and laugh like mad remembering the stories of when he was a little boy. My favourite story of Pepito was the story of him trying to sell decorators’ paints. Pepito had a Pope in his family. As I mentioned Pepito was selling decorators’ painted and did not know who to sell them to. So he asked the Pope (I think it was Paolo VI) for an audience. The Pope agreed. But of course it all went wrong and he lost his job of selling paints from door to door (he was what, in England, would be called a ‘commercial traveller’). Poor Pepito, he had the worst of luck! Actually, to be honest, Pepito was not well prepared for life as he was very rich as a young man. But in the 40’s-50’s his father lost everything and Pepito was left fragile without money or a home. He could not get anything put under his name after his father’s death, for tax purposes. His only hope was to marry for money, but Picchi had lost everything too. What an unfortunate couple!

Above all, I am grateful to Pepito for giving me my first job in Italy at the Blue Note in the cloakroom (no salary, but I could keep what I made with the aristocratic audience). Pepito also asked Giuliano Salvatori del Prato, a nobleman, to help get Francesca’s father his first job at a newspaper. He started working at Momento Sera newspaper, writing about classical music. Gianni Amico introduced me to Pepito and Picchi and I also met Francesca’s father at their home, who was a young man and part of Pepito’s ‘court’. Pepito always had his ‘court’ of young Jazz lovers. When they were all together they would put on a Jazz records and play a game to see who could guess the performer or instrumentalist first and so on – they were fanatical.

Pepito and Picchi were apart of my life for many years. Again I will ask, if anyone has memories of “Pepito and Picchi” that you would like to send to me; I will include them on their site. I have wonderful memories of Jazz time in Italy and now after tonight at the Proms, in London as well.

Verinha Ottoni.

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