- Jazz Italian Style: From Its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra by Anna Harwell Celenza
Anna Celenza's Jazz Italian Style begins with a brief description of a Frank Sinatra recording made in 1935 with the Hoboken Four, a vocal group he had recently joined. Celenza notes that the nineteen-year-old Sinatra was clearly imitating the most popular vocalists of the day, particularly Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers. Four years pass before Sinatra is recorded again, and Celenza believes that during this time, Sinatra creates his renowned vocal style. The author uses this brief period to frame an exploration into the musical world that influenced Sinatra, namely Italian jazz, and launches her inquiry with a chapter on the musical contributions by Italian immigrants to the origins of jazz.
Celenza's discussion begins with a thorough review of Bruno Zuculin's valuable descriptions of jazz in New Orleans circa 1919. Zuculin, an Italian diplomat, categorized jazz bands by race, nationality, and performance venue. He pointed out that "black" bands performed in hotels, dance halls, and social clubs, while "white" bands, largely Italian, performed in cinemas and music halls. Italians certainly held a notable position in the New Orleans musical community. Profitable shipping routes between New Orleans and Palermo provided a global connection between the two cities, resulting in over thirty thousand Italian immigrants living in New Orleans by the 1890s. Celenza points out that Sicily's North African roots made cultural mixing [End Page 98] easy: "These shared links with African culture may be one of the reasons Italian Americans adapted so quickly. … The various cultures of New Orleans's natives and immigrants mixed with great ease. Thus it should come as no surprise that the earliest founders of ragtime and jazz included both African Americans and Italians" (p. 12). After briefly discussing Italian jazz in New York City and San Francisco, Celenza examines the influence of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in Chicago. The leaders of this group, known to have created the first jazz recording in 1917, were two Italian Americans: Nick LaRocca and Anthony Sbarbaro. The author notes that this ensemble's influence cannot be overstated, as it arguably launched the jazz age and ultimately contributed to many Italian critics pointing to LaRocca and Sbarbaro as proof that Italians did, in fact, contribute to the creation of jazz. Admittedly, some readers will be skeptical of these musical contributions to jazz, and Celenza admits, "jazz is an art form that originated in America in the hands of African American musicians. There is no disputing this fact. But what originally made jazz so appealing to so many people around the globe was the mesmerizing synthesis of all its musical characteristics, the genesis of which could be linked to various ethnicities, including Italian" (pp. 3–4).
Within the discussion of origins, Celenza summarizes an important philosophical movement called futurism. Headed by F. T. Marinetti, this philosophy espoused that nearly every aspect of Italian life should be equally engaged with the quickly modernizing present and with the past. Futurists were captivated by new technologies in communication, travel, and, of course, music. In the early twentieth century, no music would embody the essence of futurism more than jazz. As futurism was gaining notoriety, particularly among aspiring politicians like Benito Mussolini, live jazz was officially introduced to Italy by members of the US Army Ambulance Service (USAAS) in 1918. The USAAS assisted the 332nd regiment, whose primary mission was to demonstrate American support for Italy after World War I. The USAAS had a significant musical component: "Americans arrived with enough musical instruments and sheet music to outfit three ensembles: two pit bands linked to the [William] Kernell– [Richard] Fechheimer shows Good-Bye Bill and Let's Go, and a smaller group referred to in military documents as the 'American Jazz Band'" (p. 42). These groups toured Italy and...