Born and raised in Turin, Italy, to music-loving parents (who had actually first met at a jazz concert), Roberta Gambarini grew up listening to her father's record collection constantly. Her first vocal inspiration was Louis Armstrong, but she soon discovered Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, and Billie Holiday, as well as blues artists like Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Smith. At age 12 she began playing the clarinet, but realizing the versatility and talents of her clear alto, she moved to voice, singing and performing in clubs by the time she was 17. The next year she decided to move to Milan to pursue her career more seriously, and a third-place finish at a national jazz radio competition brought her enough exposure to jump-start her career, sending her around Europe performing at festivals and with other artists, including Hammond organist Emmanuel Bex in 1997.
In 1998 Gambarini received a scholarship to study for two years at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and soon after arriving she competed, and eventually finished third, in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition behind Teri Thornton and Jane Monheit. Though Gambarini did not receive a recording contract from this accomplishment (unlike Monheit), it did give her enough performing opportunities that she decided to leave Boston and move to New York, where she could focus better on her music and the scene. In 2006, after years of working and becoming a kind of cult favorite in the New York jazz world, though she was still rejected by every label she pitched her album to, Gambarini started Groovin' High in order to release her American debut, Easy to Love. A collection of standards, the record impressed critics enough to garner the singer a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album, alongside Diana Krall and Nancy Wilson, among others. ~ Marisa Brown