Musician Zucchero Fornaciari

Guest interviews are usually available online within 24 hours of broadcast.

The Grammy-nominated musician talks about his Americana tour and offers a glimpse of his artistry in a performance.

A household name in Europe, Zucchero "Sugar" Fornaciari has been making music for more than four decades. The talented guitarist is a best-selling artist in his native Italy and has won numerous honors, including two World Music Awards and a Grammy nomination. He's also performed or collaborated with such icons as Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Buddy Guy and Bono, to name a few. Inspired by gospel, soul and rock music, Fornaciari began playing as a teenager and founded a couple of local bands for which he also wrote Italian pop songs. He first performed in the U.S. in the 1990s, playing to sold-out venues in New York and L.A., and is back as part of his Americana Tour.


Tavis: Zucchero is a Grammy-nominated singer and musician who has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. His music is a combination of blues and rock and gospel all put through an Italian lens.

His latest CD was recorded in Havana with some of Cuba’s best musicians. It’s called, appropriately enough, “La Sesion Cubana,” “The Cuban Session,” and you’ll see in this clip from his new CD, he usually performs with an array of musicians backing him up.

Tonight he’ll close our show with a performance at the keyboard. Take a look at this clip.

[Clip of Zucchero performance]

Tavis: Those are a lot of different genres to put through an Italian lens. (Laughter) What makes all that work?

Zucchero Fornaciari: (Laughs) It’s music talk. I think music talk, and even if you don’t understand all the lyrics, but the sound is there and the vibe is the main thing in music.

I can sing in English, and I did sometimes. I did it, but – or in Spanish. But at the end I said to myself I think the original, you are Italian, and the real thing is if you sing in Italian.

Even if I love Black music, if I love gospel, if I love soul or rhythm and blues or rock, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it also in Italian if it sounds great. It has to sound good.

I remember the first time when I met Mr. Miles Davis that we did a song together, we did a track together. He was the one that said, “You should keep singing in Italian.”

Tavis: Miles told you to keep singing in Italian?

Fornaciari: Yeah, that’s right, yeah.

Tavis: You jumped through that story so quick, and I’m glad Miles gave you that advice. Let me back up right quick and let you tell us the story of how you and Miles got to meet. This is a great story of how you and Miles actually connected.

Fornaciari: Yeah, yeah. No, I was – to be honest, I was in the Maldives Islands to try to save my marriage with my ex-wife. So we went for holidays there, and Miles was doing concerts in Italy, and he went in a restaurant with a promoter, an Italian promoter, and he heard this song on radio in the restaurant that is called (speaks in Italian).

Then he said, “Who is this guy?” (Imitating Miles Davis) “Who is this guy?”

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) You got him down. You sound just like him, yeah.

Fornaciari: Yeah. (Laughter) The promoter said, “He’s a new Italian artist, he’s doing very well. He’s happening.” “I would like that to play; I’d like to play that.” So the promoter was shocked, and they called me up.

At the Maldives Island it was 4:00 in the morning, and I wake up and I went, they said, “Miles Davis wants to play now.” I said, “This is a joke,” and I thought it was a joke.

So I put down the telephone, I say, “Come on,” boom. (Laughter) But then he called me back and he said, “No, it’s true, you have to go in New York the 1st of April, because Miles wants to play on this track. It’s a great occasion for you,” (unintelligible).

I said, “But I have to try to save my marriage.” He said, “Yeah, but you have to choose, to make a choice.” (Laughter)

Tavis: It’s either stay in the islands and save your marriage, or go to the Hit Factory in New York and play with Miles. (Laughter) Okay?

Fornaciari: And that’s why I split.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) So the marriage obviously didn’t make it.

Fornaciari: I went to New York. (Laughter)

Tavis: But the track with you and Miles is a beautiful track, though, so. (Laughter)

Fornaciari: And he came and said, without saying anything, without saying hello, without saying, without smiling, saying nothing, he said, “What are you doing? Wrong key.” I said, “Whoa, wrong key? I wrote the song. It’s not the wrong key.”

He said, “B flat minor, it’s in B flat minor.” I said, “No, it’s in B minor.” He said, “B flat minor.” “No. I’m sorry, Mr. Miles.” I was shocked. I was like, (laughter) like an ice. I don’t know what to sort it out.

So I said, I have an idea, I said maybe he hear the song on the cassette, and the battery was a little bit low –

Tavis: A little low, yeah.

Fornaciari: – and the tune get – it was in the middle.

Tavis: Right.

Fornaciari: Because if you play in B flat, he’s got less things to do, (laughter) he choose B flat. (Laughter)

Tavis: Yeah. He chose what worked for him.

Fornaciari: Yeah.

Tavis: Well, I ain’t mad at Miles.

Fornaciari: No, but he’s great.

Tavis: I could talk to you for hours, you are so entertaining. I want to make room for you to perform so that this audience can hear you. Just say a quick word to me about this project. Talk to me about this album.

Fornaciari: For many years I thought, I’ve always wanted to contaminate rhythm and blues, soul, basically what I’m doing, with kind of percussions, Latino percussions.

I think the Cubans, they are the best in terms of rhythm. So I went in Havana on holidays for three or four times. I fall in love with the music; I fall in love with the people. Nothing to do with politics and all this stuff.

But just the island is fantastic and the people are very nice, very romantic, still very. So I said to myself, well, one day I would like to do a big concert here for these people, because they deserve something, and also make a record.

Then I meet some musicians there like Chucho Valdes that is a great jazz Cuban musician, and someone of (unintelligible) they give me the, they insist also with the government to have me, because it’s not easy to make a concert.

They don’t have nothing. They don’t have power, they don’t have that, so we take 10 containers from Genoa port and we went to Havana with everything. We just stayed with the lights, with the PA, and everything.

We did this concert the 8th of December last year in front of 80,000 Cubans, with 21 musicians, Cuban musicians, plus my band, and then we did this album. That is my music, basically my songs, but with horns and percussions, Cubans.

We call it “Sesion Cubana” because we recorded it in Havana with Don Was, a producer, a rock producer. But it’s not typical Cuban music. It’s my music with a Cuban influence.

Tavis: I want to get out of the way and let the audience hear it. He is respected around the world, as I said earlier. Fifty million albums sold around the world, and everybody from Bono to Miles Davis and everybody else sings his praises.

If you have not heard of Zucchero, you now have, and now you get a chance to hear him, not with his full complement of musicians, but you’ll hear him anyway. The new project from Zucchero is called “La Sesion Cubana.” April 23rd, if you’re in New York, he’s at Madison Square Garden in the Theater there, so if you’re in New York I know you’ll want to check him out.

But for those around the country, get the new project. Let me get out of the way now for Zucchero to perform for you track number eight off the new project. It’s called “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.” I’m going to get out of the way so he can do his thing. Good to have you on this program, sir.

Fornaciari: Thank you, thank you.

Tavis: Look forward to the performance. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

[Live musical performance]

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

[Walmart sponsor ad]

“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: April 3, 2014 at 1:42 am