Nick LaRocca (From Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University)
Jazz and the Italian American impact, including Nick LaRocca, Eddie Lang, and Joe Venuti.

Jazz holds a unique position in the history of American music as perhaps its only original art form. Notwithstanding its undeniable association of its origins with African Americans, who were its foremost and most well known practitioners, Italian Americans were another ethnic group involved in jazz. Jazz began as an extemporaneous blend of African American folk music that required quick wit and compressed meaning. However, the first jazz recording was made by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a New Orleans group led by an Italian American that also featured Dominick James (Nick) LaRocca as trumpeter. The legendary Louis Armstrong paid LaRocca supreme tribute as one of the great pioneers of syncopated music.

New Orleans was indeed the crucible for jazz, where, in addition to LaRocca, clarinetist Leon Rappolo made many jazz records including some with outstanding African American jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton. Chicago and New York were other jazz centers to spawn Italian American musicians like Joe Marsala and Wingy Manone, while Philadelphia produced Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang (Salvatore Massaro), both classically trained musicians. Lang, who learned to play guitar from his father, became the first popular solo guitarist star, one critic called him the "Father of Jazz Guitar." He was a peerless musician who interspersed chords and single-string lines who was called upon to perform with the leading entertainers of the day such as Paul Whiteman and Bing Crosby. Lang teamed up with Venuti, whose violin virtuosity brought stability and continuity, and together they produced some of the finest records of the day. They were said to have influenced the playing of European jazz.

By the 1940s jazz had become widely accepted as an art form in which Italian American names were prominently featured: Vido Musso, Charlie Ventura, Johnny Guarnieri, Flip Philips (Joseph J. Filipelli) Buddy Greco, Buddy De Franco. Among the more recent Italian Americans to perform in the jazz genre is Rochester's Chuck Mangione, nephew of famous author Jerre Mangione. Chuck's father had an interest in jazz and took his musically inclined son to local jazz clubs where he met jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie, and Chuck was fortunate to play with him at informal settings. By the 1970s Chuck Mangione had developed his own sound that might be called "soft" jazz, one that brought him much fame. Among other outstanding Italian Americans in jazz is Al DiMeola, a great innovator of fusion, and Bucky Pizzarelli, masterful guitarist and his son John who combines guitar playing and ballad singing. Without doubt, the Italian American contribution to jazz music is extraordinary.

Contemporary artist Chuck Mangione
Eddie Lang

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