“My God, Italians are beautiful!” She shook her head back and forth almost in disbelief that the guy, who had just walked into the room to say hello and then left to attend to his business, was real. “She” was none too shabby herself, a blue-eyed beauty, an Irish actress who had starred in several Hollywood films, one of which as Sylvester Stallone’s love interest in the sixth Rocky picture, Rocky Balboa. Her name is Geraldine Hughes and she had dropped by Florence for a visit. After the young man had left the room, she asked, “What do they feed them here? I mean, did you see that?”
Funnily enough, I had worked with this young man since he was a bit of a boy as my production sound assistant and now as head of sound for the “Live From Florence” film brand, and I had never really noticed that he had the makings of a star, except in the sound department. As the past five years went on, this young artist, Jeremy Kalke, aka Jeremy Artur, a native of Prato from a mother whose history goes back in Tuscany for centuries and a father from Köln, Germany, went from being a teenager to a 25-year-old man. When he worked on set, people would fumble their words around him. I’d see others just staring. A group of girls gossiping off to the side: “Who is that?” Or at lunch during a theatre tour in Los Angeles, the ladies from the next table calling over to him: “Hey, what movie are you in now?”
It’s fun to watch a young artist come into their own. But what can be way more fun is watching that person find their artistic groove and actually have something to say from an artist’s standpoint. A few weeks back, I decided to head over to a very cool event at Palazzo Strozzi, the 15th-century palace created by the Strozzi family to assert that the Medici were not the only Tuscan powerhouse. Today, Palazzo Strozzi is a world-class exhibition space and the seat of National Renaissance Studies. But on Thursday nights, the grand courtyard of the palazzo turns into a nightspot, headed up by one of Florence’s leading young DJs, this movie star in the making, Jeremy Kalke.
The energy in the courtyard is hot. Jeremy’s choice of music is eclectic. He doesn’t just spin records; he gets the party going. He dances with the patrons. Kids and grown ups fuss over him. Some follow him in a samba line. It helps that he’s taller than everyone; they can see him above the crowd and follow along. It’s everything you might think about contemporary Florence, the mix of the old, the new, the energetic and the fun loving.
While Jeremy is Tuscan through and through, his world experiences guide his music choices. Adventurous since youth, trips with his parents to European destinations, Germany and Spain, Majorca and the Far East gave him a broader worldview. He was first introduced to music in school in Prato. He had a teacher who believed that there were only two types of music: good and bad. She was the one who introduced her students to music from South Africa and Latin beats, giving them more than just homegrown Italian masterpieces. Jeremy took to music right away. With the encouragement of his parents, at 15, he enrolled in the Verdi Academy of Music in Prato, and studied keyboard, percussion and solfège, the study of singing pitches and intervals from seeing them as notation on the page. Shaking his head, he tells me about the latter and how difficult it was. (I know the feeling all too well.)
After graduating from high school, his parents wondered if dance could be a profession, so they enrolled him in ballet class. He admitted to ballet being the hardest thing he had done in his life. “I cried every day in pain!” Then he made his way to Germany because he wanted to study the language, given that his father was born there. At language school in Cologne he became friends with another, slightly older artist from Iran. Hesam Jahed was more advanced in musical recording as a studio musician and Jeremy apprenticed with him, learning as much as he could. When at home in Prato, he would play for friends and neighbors, and he saw that they loved to dance to the music. He loved that he could be a catalyst for people having a good time. It clarified his life path for him. Make music to make people happy. When you see him at Palazzo Strozzi, that’s exactly what you will see in action.
On returning to Florence, unbeknownst to him, his mother sent his nascent CV to a production company that produces events internationally. (I’ve met his mother and she is a Florentine powerhouse. It makes perfect sense that she would send his CV and photos off without telling him.) He suddenly received a phone call from a Swiss production house, which informed him they had found a place as an entertainment counselor at a resort in Majorca and that he’d be leaving in ten days. He thought it was a joke.
And so, he headed off to Spain and fell in love, especially with Palma de Mallorca. For the next four years, he spent summers as entertainment director in hotels in Majorca as part of the Zafiro hotel chain. It offered him the opportunity to perfect his DJ and language skills. While there, he was also in show production and found himself in front of record turntables figuring out how he could get a crowd of different ages to dance together. “Getting all the age groups to have fun together requires choices of music with energy and a way to communicate with the crowd to get them all to have fun.”
For his musical and studio recording education, he attended Bournemouth University, a more intimate location than London, albeit still with high musical standards. Covid interrupted his studies, but he was able to complete his work, some as off-site projects and a final-year return to university itself. In Bournemouth, he offered to DJ at a pub, “The Fire Station”, and it became a “thing”. He realized that being a DJ was a profession. He also composes his own work and regularly releases material on various platforms.
Back in Florence, Jeremy’s mother, Susana Giannini, was cast in a role for one of the films produced by my company. There was a need for young male extras, so Susana offered her son’s services on set. After a day’s filming, he asked if he could observe the rest of the shoot given his sound production studies. Not only did Jeremy observe, he became a sound assistant. My head of sound told me that we should keep him around. And so, he continued on the next project, and then another one, and another after that. On finishing university and his last stint in Majorca, he took a full-time position in film production. But the dance has never gone out of the boy. As his film credits grew, so did his DJ business. He was hired for a few private parties in Florence. Word got out very quickly. It was also noted that his musical selections are not your standard disco, but world music, Afro-centric, with lots of percussion and jazz-influenced music. “So that you can both hang out, talk and dance.” His happiest moments are when the public uses their phones to “Shazam” the song being played because it is less known, but they love the music and want to download it.
As for Palazzo Strozzi, a lady working in the admin department, Gioia Risatti, retired and threw herself a big bash, and Jeremy was invited to be the DJ. He came into contact with Gioia because her boyfriend was in a play with Jeremy’s mother. (We all need her as our agent!) Lots of folks were in attendance from Palazzo Strozzi and they thought that it would be a great idea to combine music and art on Thursdays because that is when the Palazzo is open late into the evening. What began as a musical accompaniment to art quickly turned into a dance party with passersby hearing music coming from within the walls of the grand old palazzo. It was a thrilling thing for the people at Palazzo Strozzi to see and so it was decided that Thursday nights would be music and dance nights.
At the event I went to, I overheard one man wryly say to his female friend who wasn’t dancing, but who was staring at the DJ podium. “Oh, it’s quite clear why they’ve gotten him to be the DJ.” “Yes,” she replied. “His music is great.” One last glance at the podium, and she grabbed her man to dance. The hot and cool Strozzi.