Tag Archives: Rossano Sportiello

“JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE, FROM ITS ORGINS IN NEW ORLEANS TO FASCIST ITALY AND SINATRA,” by ANNA HARWELL CELENZA

“I prefer books that tell me things I don’t know,” said Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, he should have.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is such a book — wide-ranging, full of intriguing information, and refreshingly straightforward.

I will say that I thought I knew a great deal about the title and the subject.  After all, I know Rossano Sportiello, Marc Caparone, Paolo Alderighi, and Larry Scala. I have recordings by Frank Sinatra, Joe and Marty Marsala, Leon Roppolo, Louis Prima, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Wingy Manone, Jimmy Durante, Tony Sbarbaro, Nick La Rocca, Marty Napoleon, Phil Napoleon, Lino Patruno, and others.  Years ago, I owned a vinyl anthology on Italian Odeon called ITALIAN JAZZ OF THE 50s, which had music from the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band and Romano Mussolini, with other bands I do not recall.  In the very early Seventies, I ate authentic Italian food at the Half Note, under the loving supervision of the Canterino family.  (All of the above is true, although not meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness.)

But the glory of Celenza’s book is the information it offers — subtle illumination of areas of the subject that I was ignorant of, and I am sure my ignorance is not my sole property.  And the fruits of her investigation are the substance of this appreciation of her book.

But first: we are told, even before the book starts, that Celenza is “the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism, and the music industry.”  To some readers, those credentials will seem either the kiss of death or the black hand: another academic book, indigestible, a forest of footnotes, theoretical and ideological beyond endurance.  Calm yourselves.  Celenza is an engagingly straightforward writer, clear, candid, and witty.  (I saw the wit when I opened my copy at random and saw she had translated “Il Quattro Buffoni,” a band name on a record label, as “The Four Idiots.”

She doesn’t talk down to the general reader, and the book down’t labor under chunks of undigested digressive facts.  And leaving aside the useful documentation and index, the book is a compact 192 pages, because Celenza has not felt an obsessive need to include every fact that wanders by, and her chosen time period is under half a century.  It isn’t a book-length study of Sinatra, fascism, or every Italian who’s ever improvised, and that adds to its charm and effect.  Rather, like effective cultural studies, it traces the interweavings of many phenomena: radio and the growth of the recording industry, political struggles and performance, and much more.

As I promised above, I salute this book for adding information to my mental hoard.  Here are a number of things I didn’t know before reading JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE.

•     “The most horrific mass lynching in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italian immigrants were shot and strung up by an angry mob after a  jury found them innocent of assassinating the local police chief, David Hennessey.”

•     In 1919, Chevalier Bruno Zuculin wrote a description of the musical scene in New Orleans — and the music itself — for Italian readers.  The article was published two months before Ernest Ansermet’s famous celebration of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which included the young Sidney Bechet.

•     “D. Onivas,” whose orchestra is on the reverse of some 78s by Cliff Edwards, is the pseudonym of Domenico Savino, composer and conductor.

•     Jazz first came to Italy with the USAAS (United States Army Ambulance Service) and its American Jazz Band landed  — and when members of the American and Italian armies recorded for Fonotopia in December 1918.

•     I had assumed that Mussolini, like Hitler, was hostile to jazz as decadent music: not so, in fact, Il Duce “embraced” it as an expression of the Futurist art he celebrated.

•     Josephine Baker, Herb Flemming, and Al Wynn visited and worked in Italy.  Louis Armstrong gave two concerts in Turin in January 1935 and wrote a detailed happy letter to an Italian fan and record collector.

•     I had never heard or heard of the female vocal trio, “the three graces of the radio,” the Trio Lescano — Alexandra, Judith, and “Kitty,” originally from the Netherlands, who became singing stars in Italy.

•  During the Second World War, when recordings by American artists were played on the radio, new Italianized names for the musicians were invented: Luigi Braccioforte, La Colema, Del Duca, and Beniamino Buonuomo.  (Answer key on request.)

•     Sinatra’s four trips to Italy, in 1945, 1953, 1962, and 1987 — and the audience’s elation when he described his Genoan heritage, then their silence when he revealed his family was also half-Sicilian.

These excerpts are, of course, not the substance of this book.  Celenza has a wonderful understanding of the widespread forces that go into the development and growth of jazz in Italy, and one will come away from this book with a much deeper understanding of the mingling of history, race, ideology, and politics — during war and in peacetime.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is very rewarding, but never ponderous.  Here are the publisher’s resources for the book, and this is the link for the CD label offering for sale almost all the jazz described in the book.  And since a book like this cries out for a soundtrack, here is the one Celenza has generously created — 124 relevant musical examples that delight and illustrate.

May your happiness increase!

“MERVEILLIEUX!”

When I hear the voice of Rebecca Kilgore, I smile, even if the song is sad.  When I think of Rebecca Kilgore — who goes under various aliases to keep ahead of the law . . . Beck-a-Roo, Becky, Roo — I feel joyous.

With very few words, let me use JAZZ LIVES to share some of those good feelings.  Here’s a delicious sample of Rebecca — not only the singer, but the witty composer.  The song is THE DAY I LEARNED FRENCH.  Becky’s colleagues are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass, and this was recorded at the 2014 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party:

And if you are close to New York City, Rebecca will be singing tomorrow — that’s April 29, 2017, at the International Women in Jazz Festival:

And if you can’t get to New York City tomorrow, you can follow Rebecca here.

May your happiness increase!

AUTUMN SERENADE: CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

I attended my first version of this party (it was then held in upstate New York and called JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA) in September 2004, and I wandered around in a dream-state, astonished by the music and the musicians, many of whom I’d heard for years but hadn’t been able to speak to in person.  And as a journalistic aside, the very first blogpost I wrote here — in early 2008 — was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA — so this party and this blog have had a long cozy relationship.

A few years ago the party moved itself to Cleveland, Ohio, and reinvented itself — thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock — as the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY. Here is the event’s Facebook page.

In a world where jazz festivals get bigger and bigger and then sink without a trace, the CCJP is going strong.  From Thursday, September 14, to Sunday, September 17, 2017, music will be joyous and triumphant in comfortable surroundings among friends.  And the music is solid Mainstream, with no gimmicks — which you could expect, given the roster of performers.  The flyer I am looking at has, in small type, “Roster and Schedule subject to change,” but I think the players are fairly certain, barring attack by androids or arachnids.

On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gyosy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  My math won’t stand the strain, but that is a great deal of music.  And as someone who feels morally committed to seeing and often recording everything, I appreciate the breaks, which give me and others time to sit and talk in tranquility.

For details — the name of the hotel, prices for individual sessions or the whole weekend, student scholarships, meals, and more, check here.

Should you go?  I think you should, if you can:

If that swinging jazz (from left, Hal Smith, Frank Tate, Rossano Sportiello) doesn’t in some ways motivate you, I don’t know what to suggest.

May your happiness increase!

TWO FOR LOUIS, WITH MR. MARSALIS IN THE HOUSE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE (Luca’s Jazz Corner, Dec. 22, 2016)

luca-jazz-cornerPast, present, future.  Louis Armstrong recorded one of these songs in 1928, one in 1947, but they are immensely alive in 2016 and 2017 and will keep on being alive.  On December 22, 2016, Jon-Erik Kellso brought what he correctly called “a swinging quartet” to Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue in New York City) — it’s part of the nice Italian restaurant called Cavatappo, so there are good things to eat as well as drink and hear.  The room is quiet, the audience more than usually attentive.  And that audience: Luca’s is like Rick’s in CASABLANCA in that everyone comes there.  One of the approving listeners in the room was Wynton Marsalis, who loves this music deeply, as we know.

So, here, for all the musicians in the house, and you as well, is the Earl Hines – Louis 1928 classic, OUR MONDAY DATE:

and something more ruminative but still moving forward nicely, Louis’ own SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Everyone plays beautifully, in ensemble and solo.  But (meaning no disrespect to Messrs. Kellso, Arntzen, Sportiello) this time I would single out the wonderful (and sometimes underacknowledged) Frank Tate — splendidly audible here and offering so much: his intuitive grasp of the right notes in the right places.

And here you can enjoy this quartet performing four other beauties from that night.  I mentioned the future: Jon-Erik will be bringing another group to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan to be there, and I hope you can make it to the Upper East Side too.

May your happiness increase!

IF THERE’S A GLEAM IN HER EYE, SHE’S LISTENING TO THIS BAND: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

The song, THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, music by Burton Lane (a bubbling rhythmic line) and witty incisive lyrics by Frank Loesser, first emerged in 1939 and was a big-band hit immediately for Krupa, Miller, and Goodman.  Then, in 1944, it emerged again as a Condon favorite.  I give full credit to Eddie for making it popular, with everyone from Jimmy Rowles to Annie Ross to Mel Torme to Susannah McCorkle recording it — with special notice for Marty Grosz and Rebecca Kilgore in my decades.

ladys-in-love-larger

It’s a great premise — that these are all the litmus tests one can use to determine if, in fact, the lady is infatuated — a nice change from the usual “I wish she loved me again” plaint.  Here are Rebecca and Dave Frishberg — verse and two choruses, beautifully:

But the punchy repeated phrases lend themselves to vigorous instrumental strutting, as evident in this version, created at Luca’s Jazz Corner on December 22, 2016, by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, and Frank Tate. Building inspectors stopped in near the end of the performance because of calls that the whole block was swaying dangerously in 4/4:

Lovely music happens regularly at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue in Manhattan): a Kellso quartet will be back on March 23 . . . a clear day for hot jazz indeed.  Incidentally, if you haven’t been following the intensive JAZZ LIVES coverage of this band, this evening, here you can enjoy dazzling renditions of JUBILEE, RUNNIN’ WILD, and FINE AND DANDY.  All three song titles appropriately describe the music, too.

May your happiness increase!

“MISTER GLOOM WON’T BE ABOUT”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

luca-jazz-corner

Feeling lower than a snake’s belly?  Or perhaps is “fump” the objective correlative for now?  (Milt Hinton would be happy to explain.) Is the inside of your skull terribly dark these days?

This might help.  The elixir of life mixes the inspiring shades of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael with the real-life inspirations offered us by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate and someone holding a video camera — on December 22, 2016, at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue, New York City).  There are no artistic or audible flaws in this video, but there are a few seconds where the focus blurs.  I wasn’t trying out new special effects, but the bright light from above confused the camera’s little brain.  However, blessedly, the sound is unaltered.  Hear for yourself:

Here is more evidence of the cosmic happiness that took place that night: RUNNIN’ WILD and FINE AND DANDY.  Incidentally, a young musician (I believe he plays trumpet) named Wynton Marsalis came in for the second set.  I am sure that he inspired the band, but I am even more sure that this delicious quartet inspired him as well.  As they did me.

Jon-Erik will be bringing a quartet back to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan and hope to be there.  You should come too.  (Other heroes — Gabrielle Stravelli, Michael Kanan, Pat O’Leary, and Ken Peplowski — have gigs coming up.)

May your happiness increase!

“DO SOME STUFF”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE (Luca’s Jazz Corner, December 22, 2016)

fine-and-dandy

Two adjectives and a conjunction never sounded so good as they did at Luca’s Jazz Corner at 1712 First Avenue in New York City on the night of December 22, 2016.  A wonderful band lit up that cozy room on the Upper East Side: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.  (And if you wonder why this video is shot from behind the band, that was the best spot to be in.  We video types learn to be adaptable or we go home sulkily without hearing any music.)

The song itself is delightful to play and improvise on, although in my childhood a few bars of it at a rapid tempo became a comic cliche.  The composers, Kay Swift (music) and “Paul James” (lyrics) are a remarkable pair — married collaborators, even though Kay had a decade-long affair with another songwriter named George Gershwin.  The song was the title number for a hit Broadway show — the first ever composed wholly by a woman.  “Paul James” was the pen name of James Paul Warburg, a high-level economist and banker whose main desire in life was to write a hit song.

I think that Ms. Swift and Mr. Warburg would find this version lives up to the song’s title and intent.

A quite irrelevant anecdote here.  For the first twenty-plus years of my college teaching career, I labored under the burden of English 101: Freshman Composition.  “Burden” because I think writing can be improved, but there has to be something there to begin with, which many of my very delightful students lacked.  Relief came in the person(s) of many students who were born elsewhere, labeled “ESL” (English As A Second Language) students.  Their idioms were occasionally wobbly, but their insights were much deeper than their American-born peers.  From them, I picked up an expression I use now, “In my country.” as in “In my country, we don’t tip the waitstaff in pennies.”

But one of the idioms they found especially hard to digest was “not only _____ but also _______.”  So, writing this post, I thought often of the renamed Swift-James song, NOT ONLY FINE BUT ALSO DANDY, but I can see why the shorter title remains.  And how true it is of this performance.

May your happiness increase!