Jazz, Italian Style - A Review in The Ambassador

"Nick LaRocca was born in the Italian American section of New Orleans in 1889. This was two years before the Congo Square lynchings. Twenty-eight years later he would change the face ofjazz music and become its first national and international star. . . ."

In their new book, Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter chronicle the fascinating stories of Italian American musicians whose talents, hardships and perseverance helped to shape that uniquely American musical art form known as jazz.

Sure, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett must be in any book about jazz. So must the great Louis Prima, and all three get chapters in this profile-driven volume. But who else? And why? That's the larger story the authors tell well, due largely to their exhaustive research and untiring devotion to the subject.

As the authors dig deeply into the evolution of modern-day jazz, starting back in the circa-1900 ethnic melting pot that was New Orleans then migrating to Chicago and elsewhere, they piece together a musical mosaic of little-known personalities, remarkable tales and surprising influences that leaves no doubt about the impact of Italian immigrants on jazz. From Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band to the riverboat clarinetist Leon Roppolo, from superstar Eddie Lang (Salvatore Massaro) to classy drummer Louis Bellson (Luigi Balassoni) , the list is long. These were pioneers who taught the Benny Goodmans, Jimmy Dorseys and Louis Armstrongs a thing or two.

Besides chapters on jazz in Italy, and Women in jazz, as well as a compendium of less well-known Italian American musicians, the authors cover the context of immigrant experience and the cultural barriers these musicians faced that shaped their music and lives. In other words, all that Italian American jazz.

Don Oldenburg
Editor, Ambassador Magazine
National Italian American Foundation