Jamie Marie Lazzara

An American master violin maker in Florence

Melinda Gallo
October 8, 2009

Florence is home to many expats: those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here, and those who have come to Florence and felt immediately at home here. Many people arrive here at a point in their lives when they seek to redefine themselves: whether they were not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for love, it seems that those who come to Florence are reborn. Florence will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance' for the art world, but it also welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.



At the age of 15, Jamie Marie Lazzara decided that she wanted to have a profession that would mix art and music: she was gifted in art and had been playing the violin since she was eight. When she decided to become a violin maker, she spoke with a few violin makers in California, where she was living at the time. They told her that it wasn't a profession for women, but that didn't stop her. She was determined to make her dream a reality. At 19, she traveled to Cremona, Italy to attend the most prestigious violin making school in the world.


Before studying how to make violins at Istituto Professionale Internazionale Artigianale Liutario e del Legno (www.ipiall.it), Jamie came to Florence to study Italian and art restoration at Università Internazionale dell'Arte (www.uiafirenze.com) for two years. Afterwards she returned to Cremona where she studied for four years to become the first American maestro liutaio (master violin maker) to graduate from IPIALL.

Shortly after she graduated, Itzhak Perlman, the famous Israeli-American virtuoso, played one of Jamie's violins and was impressed. Many years later, when Perlman was in Florence, Jamie spoke with him and talked about a violin she wanted him to try. After playing it, he ordered a custom-made violin from Jamie immediately based on his Stradivarius. In January 2009, Perlman played that violin at President Obama's inauguration ceremony with Yo-yo Ma, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero.


Jamie builds custom instruments as well as period instruments, like citterns, and kit violins, for such renowned musicians as Micha Molthoff, as well as local artists, among them Luca di Volo (tromba marina), Emanuele Parrini (a viola and a violin), and Jacopo Martini, Leo Boni, Tommaso Papini, Simone Solazzo (swing guitars), and Gianluca Venier (Renaissance violetta and basseto da gamba). Even though her shop is fairly new, having opened over 20 years ago, it is considered a historic Florentine artisan studio.


In her studio behind the Palazzo Vecchio, in via dei Leoni, you can find Jamie building, restoring, and repairing violins, guitars, and other string instruments. Violin forms for some of the custom instruments that she has made hang on the wall above her workspace while stacks of wood from Val di Fiemme in Northern Italy are piled high in a corner. She keeps resins and pigments in separate containers to make her own varnishes for her instruments. Her six square meter studio is compact, but optimized: she's able to work on numerous instruments at a time.


Jamie also plays her instruments. For almost 15 years, she played violin for the late Italian folk singer Caterina Bueno, and was recently invited to play the lyra da braccio for the inauguration of a Leonardo da Vinci museum in Sweden. (Apparently da Vinci surprised the court in Milan one day by playing the lyra da braccio, the forerunner to the violin.)


Even after being in Florence for 30 years, Jamie still finds the city stimulating. When she is not in her studio, she sometimes heads out to one of the museums, like the Bargello, where she finds inspiration for her work of making violins by hand.



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