Saxophonist Ada Rovatti Unveils Her ‘Hidden’ Side

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On The Secret World Of Piloo, Rovatti pays tribute to her late father.

(Photo: Ada Rovatti)

It’s been 20 years since the release of Under The Hat, Ada Rovatti’s confidently swinging 2003 debut featuring guest guitarist Mike Stern, percussionist Don Alias and her then-newlywed husband, Randy Brecker, on trumpet.

She later showcased her technical command of tenor and soprano saxophones on 2009’s Green Factor, the first recording for her independent Piloo Records, and on subsequent recordings for the label like 2014’s Disguise and 2019’s Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond.

For Rovatti’s seventh as a leader, The Hidden World Of Piloo, she delivers a heartfelt dedication to her late father, Mario Rovatti.

“I lost my dad during COVID,” she explained. “That was a blow for me because I was really, really close to him. So everything took its toll, and it was a moment to put some thoughts together. The title of the album, The Hidden World Of Piloo, and also the name of the record label, was a nickname given to me by my dad. He always called me Piloo because when I was a kid there was a story of this little cat named Piloo who was mischievous and always doing crazy stuff. And because I was kind of mischievous like that, it became my nickname.”

For one-and-a-half years during the pandemic, Rovatti wasn’t able to fly home to Italy to visit her family. Finally, in July 2021, as soon as the all-clear sign was given, she flew to her home town of Mortara to see her ailing father for one last time. “I went to see him with my brother,” she recalled. “And I remember telling him on the flight over, ‘I don’t think he is going to hang for much longer.’ I was able to see him a few hours before he passed away. And when he saw me there at the hospital, he said, ‘Ciao, Piloo!’ So even to the end he still called me Piloo.”

Rovatti speaks in reverent tones about her larger-than-life father, who died one month short of his 90th birthday. “He was the ultimate Indiana Jones. He lived in Africa, he was a hunter, he traveled all over the world. He was the most knowledgeable person I ever met. He could talk with a brain surgeon, a philosopher or a monk. He could have an amazing conversation with anyone he would talk to. And he was always the life of the party. He was a really funny guy who would throw these wild parties all the time. I grew up in that kind of environment where two or three times a week he would throw a party and we would have the most bizarre array of people in our home, from the count of some country in the middle of Europe to the plumber who just fixed the toilet to the ex-nun, the ex-convict, the guy from the circus and the attorney general. And as a kid, you can imagine how bizarre that all was. It was exciting and crazy. And people from all over the world would show up at our door, and the door was always open. We had people at 2 a.m. knocking at the door for help or just wanting to talk to somebody. And my dad was the kind of guy who would always sit and talk to them.”

Her love can be felt on the gospel-flavored “Take It Home,” sung by Niki Harris. “I finished that tune the day before I flew to see him in Italy,” she said. “So it was really my way of saying, ‘Just let it be. Trust life.’”

On Piloo, her most ambitious project to date, Rovatti contemplates everything from the meaning of life on “Life Must Go On,” sung by Alma Naidu, to empathy for others with “Hey You (Scintilla Of Wonder),” sung by Fay Claassen. She performs “Make Up Girl,” an ode to her 15-year-old daughter, Stella, with some lively instrumental call-and-response between mom and pop. And she even considers the concept of God being a Black woman with the amusing “Done Deal,” sung as a clever dialogue between Kurt Elling and Harris.

“This album kind of represents another side of me, a much more intimate side, the side that people don’t see about me,” said Rovatti. “Because I’m always very cheery and goofy and outgoing. But there is another side that is hidden. I’m a pretty empathetic person, and I feel a lot of the things around me, including somebody’s anxiety or sadness. There was a time early on when I was in New York that I had a hard time of it because if I would go into the subway or was in a cab, I was always looking around the subway car or out the window of a cab, and I would feel the power of people. And I felt like I was drawn by their thoughts. Or I could feel somebody’s anxiety or sadness. I’m a deep observer, so I look at eyes, movements of the hand, and I can kind of draw my own conclusions from what I see. But then, there have been times where I say, ‘What if instead? …’ So I’m always very curious about people and their behavior and what makes people do certain things.”

Those deeper thoughts, along with some brilliant playing by Rovatti, Brecker, guest guitarists Dean Brown, Tom Guarna and former Brecker Brother Barry Finnerty (who appeared on 1978’s Heavy Metal Be-Bop), come to the surface on The Hidden World Of Piloo.

“I do everything,” she concluded. “There is a little funk on this new album, a little gospel, a little jazz, a little straightahead, a waltz, a samba. I mean, I do it all because that’s just how I hear music.” DB



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