A Short History of … “Via Con Me”

Paolo Conte is a prominent Italian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, whose most famous works often evoke his love and admiration of classical American jazz and swing. His most famous song, and arguably one of the most internationally well-known Italian songs of all time, is “Via Con Me” (translation: “Come Away with Me”), a song about romance and runaway lovers that is at once passionate and harrowingly disenchanted.

Conte was born in Asti, a small city in the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. While he had been playing vibraphone in local jazz bands and writing songs for other artists since the early ’60s, he spent most of his early career working as a lawyer and it was not until 1974 that he recorded his debut solo album, prompted by the renowned Italian music producer Lilli Greco.

Conte has said many times that “Via Con Me” is his favorite of all the songs he has written, and has revisited and recorded it many times both live and in the studio. It first appeared on his 1981 album, Paris milonga the first of his LPs to draw heavily on jazz and swing and to be released outside of his native country, earning him international acclaim.

The song includes references to landscapes, settings and situations that are very cinematic in nature; it seems, therefore, appropriate that Roberto Benigni, one of the most famous Italian film figures, would be among the first to record it. He also featured it on his directorial debut, 1983’s Tu mi turbi…, released 16 years later before his Academy Award triumph with Life is Beautiful. Tu mi turbi… would not be the only film to include Conte’s song; over the years, it’s been featured in such films as Lawrence Kasdan’s French Kiss (1995), and the George Clooney-starring crime comedy Welcome to Collinwood (2002).

Speaking of “Via Con Me,” Benigni has said: “I get emotional every time I hear it. The lyrics don’t reveal much, but you can feel there’s a very deep sentiment, pain and melancholia, a sense that something will burst at any moment, something that must happen.”

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