The memory of the “Italian jazz” explored by Umiliani in I soliti ignoti was alive and kicking in both 3s3 films:
I recall that Mario Monicelli, director of I soliti ignoti [Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958], had expressly called for a very modern kind of music. He wanted it to be fun and swinging, and at the same time tragic, bluesy. Because as funny as they were, the film’s protagonists were still thieves in the end. In I soliti ignoti, I also tried out new musical solutions, pairing together double bass and drums to score a scene where an individual was walking at night. Only those two instruments. In Italy, it had never been done before, and it was a big hit. In that film, I even used electric guitar in a different way. For example, the scene where the crooks fall from the roof is scored with just a simple noise lick. It wasn’t an obvious choice. On the one hand, it needed to make a thud, while on the other it had to convey the fact that they were still alive. It was tragic and comical at the same time. Obviously, I couldn’t use strings or other instruments. I recall that Monicelli jumped up in his seat, he was thrilled. I had also been given a lot of liberty on Luigi Zampa’s Il Vigile [The Traffic Policeman, 1960]. I was happy with Chet Baker, too, whom I got to know working on L’Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti [Fiasco in Milan, 1959], Urlatori alla sbarra [Howlers of the Dock, 1959], andSmog (1962). I remember that while working on l’Audace colpo, I had been finishing up a couple of small musical themes at Cinecittà when suddenlyChet Baker appeared. He wasn’t well—he was a drug addict. He picked up a trumpet, played three pieces, and then disappeared from the studio. He always called me “maestro.” “But you’re the maestro,” I’d tell him. He was a genius, as great as Armstrong.
Umiliani was an artist of great importance.7 With I soliti ignoti, he had managed to adapt American crime jazz to the Italian comedy, rendering it all the more ironic and “Italianized” without being “too jazzy.” The result was a sufficiently exotic sound that, although “it didn’t seem Italian,” truly recalled the melodic tradition of Italy: simplified harmonic sequences and orchestral arrangements.
Mondo Exotica: Sounds, Visions, Obsessions of the Cocktail Generation