LONDON — Blindfolded listeners might swear they were listening to vintage American blues. Opening their eyes, they’d see Emanuele “Manny” Fizzotti, an exquisite Italian blues guitarist wowing blues-loving crowds all around London.
The only thing that might have given Manny away as Italian at the Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues Bar in London May 9 would have been his outfit — a colorful, stylish half-scarf worn like a cravat, an equally colorful, wildly patterned shirt topped with a leather vest, and a sporty, jaunty hat. But his voice, and certainly his exquisite finger work, are pure blues. (From what I’ve seen, most American blues guitarists are nowhere near as stylish, preferring, it seems, whatever jeans and shirt are handy.)
And, as it turns out, Manny is not unique: There is a rich history of accomplished Italian blues guitarists, including Luca Giordano (his 45-video YouTube channel), the late Pino Daniele (60 videos here), Marco Pandolfi, winner of the 2013 Italian final for the European Blues Challenge (his hour-long video from the 2015 Bitonto Blues Festival here), and mandolin blues artist Lino Muoio (dozens of videos here), to name just a few.
Manny represents the Italian blues tradition very, very well.
His smooth, almost liquid finger work is mesmerizing. I sat at a table at the edge of the stage — not five feet away from Manny and his amazing all-metal guitar (more on that in a minute). It was a blues lover’s treat to get to watch the fingers of his left hand slide up and down the neck while his right hand danced around the lower end with grace and ease.
And that guitar! The bar’s spotlights glinted off the guitar’s silver body and its sound was incredibly full-bodied. Exposing my ignorance, I told Manny after the gig that I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a solid metal acoustic guitar.
Manny explained that the guitar is called a “resonator” guitar, developed before the age of modern amplifiers as a way to increase the volume of a standard acoustic guitar, and to be audible in the brass bands of the 20s and 30s, according to The Resonator Guitar Guide.
“A typical acoustic guitar produces sound when the strings cause the top (and to a lesser extent the back and sides) to vibrate,” according to The Guide. “A resonator guitar utilizes a metal cone that sits underneath the strings and acts very much like a stereo speaker. The strings connect to the cone via a bridge. When the strings are played, the metal cone vibrates, moving air and amplifying the sound within the guitar and pushing it out through sound holes. The result is more volume, but also a completely distinct tone and timbre.”
Manny played his version of a resonator, an Amstar from the Czech Republic, beautifully. And it did what it was designed to do: His music cut right through the crowd noise deeply and powerfully.
But there was so much more to Manny’s music than his technical mastery. He LOVES the blues and that adds a personal, powerful element to his performance enabling him to really connect with his audience.
“Honestly, it just makes me feel so good,” Manny told me. “It made me feel so good the first time I ever listened to it. I started liking it the very first time I heard it when I was 14 or 15 years old. I was listening to the Beatles and Deep Purple and Lead Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, and through those guys, I discovered the blues.
“Some of these guys have some blues in their songs, and I felt particularly good when I was listening to those songs,” he said. “I was curious and I went to check the real stuff out and I found put that I really liked it a lot. I’ve played the Beatles and everything — a lot of styles in my life — but the kind of music I like the most, the kind that really makes me feel good, is the blues.”
Manny chooses the songs he plays based on artists he admires: “I tend to play the tunes that i like, but I only choose them if I feel I can play them well enough, and if I can give them something of my own. There are some tunes I really like by some very famous blues guys that are just too hard to play to match the original. ‘Mannish Boy’ by Muddy Waters, for example. No one else can do that. You would sound silly.”
While many Italian guitarists have migrated to the U.S., Manny has chosen London. “In 2009, I came (to London) on vacation for two weeks to check the place out because I had been told the blues scene was good and, in fact, I realized, yes, it IS good!” he said. “So I kept coming, organizing gigs and flying back and forth from Italy. Then in 2011, I decided to move here. Now I’m a resident and I don’t think I’ll be going to live anywhere else.”
That’s very good news for Londoners.
(Photos and video by John Wilpers)
ABOUT EMANUELE “MANNY” FIZZOTTI:
- Emanuele “Manny” Fizzotti’s website
- Manny’s Facebook page
- Manny’s YouTube Channel
- Manny’s “StarNow” page
- Buy Manny’s album on iTunes or Amazon
- Read more about Manny on Blues Blast magazine
ABOUT THE “AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT….” BLUES BAR:
Ain’t Nothin But Blues Bar
- 20 Kingly St, London W1B 5PZ, United Kingdom
- Hours: 5PM–1AM
- Phone: +44 20 7287 0514
- The “AIn’t Nothin’ But” Website
- The “AIn’t Nothin’ But” Facebook page
THE VIBE: Very, very much the quintessential jazz dive bar. Nothing fancy (but who’s looking for fancy when you come to listen to the blues?). Their Yelp page has a lot of negative reviews about patrons being treated rudely by the manager and bartender, but I saw none of that. However, I was there for the early show (7-9 PM), and perhaps things get testy later as patrons get more lubricated. The beer selection is uninspiring but that’s no big deal, either, at least compared to their absolutely incredible blues line-up. Go to the website and look at their calendar! It’s chock-a-block full of fantastic blues musicians and great special events. Hard to top!