Percy Faith arrangement analysed
by Robert Walton
Back in 1963 somewhere in the Bay of Biscay, I was the pianist on the Greek liner Lakonia with a quartet consisting of Norman Coker (leader and drummer), David Williams (double bass) and Mike Elliott (tenor saxophone). He was constantly extolling the virtues of the great jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (which he pronounced “Coil-marn Harkins”).
Norman came from West Africa, David from Trinidad and Mike from Jamaica. Four years later Mike was a member of the million selling rhythm-and-blues octet The Foundations. One of the pieces we played on the cruise was Ciao, Ciao Bambina (Piove) that I immediately took to. It was Domenico Modugno’s follow-up to his first big hit Volare. To this day I love it. Somehow it had passed me by when first released. Years later I discovered the Percy Faith version, so hence this analysis.
There’s no doubt Percy Faith is a master of the simple arrangement, which a brief 4 bar intro shows all too clearly. A series of hushed triplets lead smoothly into this relaxed Italian-type foxtrot and continues under the melody. A glockenspiel adds its colours to the now warm close-harmony strings, by which time you’re completely caught up in the dream-like atmosphere. This is then repeated.
Then the strings strike skywards building up to, or to be exact leading down to the next section, which is not the bridge. Why? Because there isn’t one! The violins now in their element sing out with the lower strings supporting from beneath. They continue (minus lower strings) with piano decorations. After an obvious pause, the lower strings take over the tune. The violins supported by the rest of the orchestra, then bring this delightful ditty via some pretty chords and harp help to a positive end with an unexpectedly gentle detached bump.
This is one of the simplest arrangements I know but craftsman Faith handles it as no one else could, giving the song the ultimate treatment. He always does full justice to the tune he’s working on. Whatever it requires he gives it just the right amount - nothing more and nothing less. He never employed effects just for the sake of them. Percy Faith is a restrained decorator and before he even puts pencil to paper he knows exactly how it will sound, always with the listener in mind. As ever he is conducting the very best musicians.
In the 1950s Percy Faith had a special affinity with Latin American rhythms which proved very popular, but when I was announcing on Radio 390, his 1960s albums of some of the finest standards were also given a great deal of airplay.
“Ciao, Ciao Bambina” Percy Faith
Golden Age of Light Music Guild (GLCD 5218)