was the music of American slaves who worked in cotton plantations. The
African-Americans, who had the rhythm in their blood, and who naturally did not
know any notes, diatonic scales or chromatic scales, sang their songs and
created their music with poor, self-constructed musical instruments. Their
creations were not transcribed on music paper and therefore they were based on
the free interpretation that, from time to time, the musicians performed in the
first improvised Jam Sessions, outside their poor housing. The Blues was born,
the first version of Jazz. With the abolition of the slavery the artistic and
musical expression of the former slaves was structured, having at their
disposal more sophisticated instruments. They were small bands that competed in
the poor public places frequented exclusively by the black population.
At the beginning of the twentieth century in New Orleans, the French city on the shores of the Mississippi, there were clubs that only housed bands that played Jazz. In short time the city became the capital of African-American music. After the First World War, jazz music exploded throughout the United States. Prohibition had given birth to meeting places in major American cities, some very famous, in which, in spite of the law that prohibited alcoholic beverages, rivers of alcohol were consumed. These nightclubs, which were controlled by the underworld, used to make Jazz music, hosting bands made up of colored musicians. This rhythm became the most widespread music during that period. This was the moment when the name “Jazz” began to spread; it was used for the first time by a journalist, a friend of Luis Armstrong.
The origin of the words is uncertain, some associate it to the effervescence of these rhythms, others to the word “jizz”, to highlight the acme of pleasure that the music played. Another theory indicates as the origin of Jazz the word Jar “vase”, the first musicians of this genre used inverted vases to obtain percussion. The truth about the origin of Jazz is to be found in the French language which at the time was very widespread on the banks of the Mississippi. “Jaser” in the Francophone dialect of the place meant “croaking, making noise” or even “making love”. Jaser consolidated in “Jass” which is the denomination found in newspapers of the time. It was then anglicized in “Jazz” with the spread throughout the United States.
The first Jazz album was recorded in 1917 by an Italian, originally from Sicily, Nick La Rocca. Nick’s father had been a trumpeter in the Bersaglieri band led by La Marmora. Then, in 1868, he had emigrated to America with his brother, joining a large colony of Sicilians from New Orleans. “Lively stable blues” was recorded on the “A” side of the La Rocca record, “Original Dixieland one step” was recorded on the “B”. Nick recorded the pieces with his band “The Original Dixieland Jass band”, in which another Italian-American percussionist performed, Tony Sbarbaro. Passersby deleted the J of “Jass” that became “ass” on the posters. The publishers replaced “Jass” with “Jazz” to avoid this problem. This is another hypothesis on the origin of “Jazz”.
Another Italian-American had an important role in
the history of Jazz. Sharkey Bonano, or Sharkey Bananas. He put together a real
orchestra performing on a boat moored on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans.
He then moved to New York where he was listened to by Arturo Toscanini, who
called him to perform in the New York Philharmonic with his orchestra.
Toscanini considered him one of the best jazz conductors, he was particularly
admired by the sounds he could get out of his wind instruments.
With the approach of the Second World War, and with the post-depression economic boom, the popularity of Jazz music diminished, becoming a genre reserved for colored bands and a few enthusiasts. While in America the myth of this music was waning, in Europe Jazz became more and more popular.
Jazz arrived in Italy at the beginning of the twenties. But the music with exotic names performed by foreigners was forbidden with the advent of fascism. “Le tristezze di San Luigi”, the ridiculous title of the famous jazz song “St. Luis Blues “, was sung by the Trio Lescano and played by the orchestra of Gorni Kramer, in which a very young guitarist, Franco Cerri, performed. The names of the jazz greats were all Italianized: Luis Armstrong in Luigi Bracciaforte and Benny Goodman in Beniamino Buonomo.
But, despite the limits imposed by the Fascist party, jazz music in Italy was very popular in Italy in the Fascist period, starting with the Mussolini family. At Villa Torlonia, where the Mussolini lived, the Jazz notes resonated every evening. The two sons of the Duce, Bruno and Romano, were music lovers. They listened and strummed the forbidden rhythms, of which the original records were naturally sent directly from America. Even the Duce, despite official bans, loved to listen to that music. Romano Mussolini later became one of the most quoted Jazz musicians in Italy.
In 1926 the EIAR inaugurated the second radio transmitter station in Naples, after the one in Milan, Radio Napoli. It had its first headquarters in Via Cesario Console, to move, in the most convenient location of the building of the State Telephones in Via Depretis. During the war the Germans destroyed the radio station. The same reopened in Pizzofalcone with the arrival of the Americans. The transmitting antenna was placed on the hill of Posillipo, near the village of Villanova. Immediately after Radio Napoli found its final arrangement at the Corso Umberto, in the palace of the Singer, which had been specially requisitioned by the Americans to host the radio. Charles Poletti, head of the allies for the Campania region, was to want Radio Napoli working at full power, to get the messages of the liberation forces across Italy.
Each American naval unit had its own Bands on board. Charles Poletti, to acquire the benevolence of the population, invited them to play in public and the performances were broadcast by Radio Napoli, which had a power of emission that could cover almost the entire peninsula. The most popular music from these military bands was of course Jazz. The radio, present in many families, introduced the American music, first broadcast with the original titles and performed by musicians in uniform of African-American origin. Since the San Carlo Theater was closed due to the breakthrough of the roof caused by the explosion of Caterina Costa ship, the concerts of the military bands were showed as well as in the various Neapolitan theaters, in the gardens of the royal palace of Caserta. Neapolitan artists and musicians also participated in these shows, who were paid for with money and also with essential goods.
In 1943 Robert Vincent, an American soldier, had the
idea of producing records for troops on a mission. The famous V-Disc
Organization was born that printed thousands of copies of all the best-known
American musicians, who were happy to practice their work for free to their
soldiers in war. These records soon also invaded Naples and were sold smuggled.
Major jazz musicians spread Jazz music in the houses and in the streets and
lanes. It was played and sung by the various Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke
Ellington, Lennie Tristano and Frank Sinatra. Radio Napoli devoted long hours
of programming to the music from the V-Discs. “Personaggi del Jazz”
was the most listened program, followed by a broadcast of Jazz music on air
from midnight to 6 AM. Radio Napoli collaborated with artists who later became
famous: Mario Soldati, Arnoldo Foà, the journalist Antonio Ghirelli. Neapolitan
dialect theater actors were also engaged who performed in light and humorous
After 1945, the entire Italy was freed, Radio Napoli, from an independent transmitter controlled in fact by the American military, passed under the control of the RAI. The radio institution inherited a high level artistic and musical organization. A real light music orchestra was in operation at Radio Napoli, and it could also count on the high quality of the productions of the San Carlo theater, which since 1944 had been presenting shows with singers of national and international fame. In those years Beniamino Gigli was a continuous presence on the stage of the Neapolitan theater.
In the ’50s Neapolitan singers were protagonists of musical transmissions that fused American Jazz with the sounds of local tradition. One of the main interpreters of the fusion Jazz / Neapolitan music was Renato Carosone. He had gained experience in Jazz during his stay in Addis Ababa where he had been the director of the Odeon theater and the adjoining nightclub. Since the nightclub was mainly attended by Americans began to create his own personal repertoire made of Jazz and Rock & Roll. Back in Naples in 1946 he put together a trio formed by Gegè Di Giacomo on percussion and Peter Van Wood on guitar, as well as by Carosone himself, voice and piano. He began to present his innovative songs in the nightclubs of Naples and Radio Napoli: Maruzzella, Tu vuò fa l’americano, Torero, having an immediate success thanks to the skill of the guitarist and the acrobatic solos of Gegè Di Giacomo that besides playing the battery served as a counterpoint to Carosone. At the inauguration of RAI television broadcasts, his music was the first to be launched on video. In the program “L’orchestra delle quindici” Carosone presented his repertoire made of Jazz and Rock & Roll in Neapolitan sauce accompanied by Franco Cerri on guitar, the usual Gegè Di Giacomo and Claudio Bernardini, voice. In ’58 Carosone and his ensemble toured the United States where they performed at Carniege Hall, the temple of classical music in New York. The following year the musician withdrew from the scenes. In 1975 Renato Carosone returned to perform, with a memorable evening at the Bussola of Viareggio with a live television entitled “Bentornato Carosone”.
Ugo Calise was another interpreter of American-Neapolitan fusion. Originally from Ischia, he began to play the guitar in a duo of “posteggia” with him and a violinist from San Carlo; they played in the best Neapolitan restaurants. The repertoire ranged from classical Neapolitan songs to Jazz songs learned by listening to American V-Discs. At the end of the 1940s Calise created his own band formed, as well as his guitar, an accordion played by Ciro Astarita, Tony Grottola’s saxophone and a double bass, with which he rejoiced the evenings at the Forio d’Ischia Conchiglia nightclub. In this place Calise got to know Romano Mussolini, also a talented Jazz musician who had moved to the island accompanied by his mother Rachele Mussolini. Become friends created a band in which they played Romano Mussolini, son of Benito Mussolini, who performed the accordion, Ugo Calise on guitar, Ugo Corvino on piano and Vincenzo Calise on drums. Band performed in that place for as long as Romano Mussolini remained on the island.
At the end of the 50s another islander from the Gulf of Naples, Peppino di Capri (Giuseppe Faiella in the registry) along with his group “Capri Boys”, formed by Nino Amenta, Ettore Falconieri, Mario Cenci and Gabriele Varano, played in the nightclubs of the Neapolitan islands the rhythms he had heard in overseas records. His music combined Rock, a rhythm that went back to Jazz as well as to Blues and Folk, with the enthralling Twist. He was invited by the publisher Carish to record some disks at Milan. “Capri Boys” was changed to “I Rockers” for the occasion. “Nun è peccato” and “Malatia” two sides “B” of the discs they recorded became two hits. After the first two successes Peppino di Capri made the 45 rpm “Let’s twist again” that was launched in America by Chubby Checker. The song was so successful in Italy that even Chubby Checker sang it in the way of Peppino di Capri. Peppino had the merit of preserving the Neapolitan melodic line, combining it with Rock, Twist, Blues.
In 1954 the Neapolitan Jazz Club was born in Naples on the initiative of Antonio Livio and his brother Tito, Franco Vaccaro and other enthusiasts. The opening night at the Circolo della Stampa was memorable with the participation of the Italian-Maltese singer Lilian Terry, the muse of Jazz in the Mediterranean latitudes.
Since the ’70s a group of young Neapolitan musicians went in search of a new rhythm key that could operate the fusion between the tradition of Neapolitan music and the Afro-American Rythm and Blues, a forerunner of the sounds of Jazz. They were Pino Daniele, Enzo Gragnaniello, Rino Zurzolo, Tullio De Piscopo, Enzo Avitabile and the blacks in half James Senese (Italian mother and African-American father) and Mario Musella (Italian mother and native American father).
Pino Daniele was the greatest exponent of this new “sound”. He started playing with Zurzolo and Avitabile, to enter in 1976 in the ensemble “Napoli Centrale” as bassist. In the 80s he participated in the Bob Marley concert in Milan. He certified the birth of the “Neapolitan power” with the recording of the album “Nero a Metà”, a Neapolitan sound created with the fusion of Rock, Blues and Jazz. He sang at San Siro with Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan. He made records with Chick Corea and George Benson. Pino Daniele closed the decade with the album “Mascalzone latino” which then became the name of the sailing team that participated in the America’s cup. In ’95 he recorded “Non calpestare i fiori del deserto” in which he mixed pop, east and Africa along with Neapolitan sounds, followed two years later by another album “Dimmi cosa succede sulla Terra”. Nino Daniele died prematurely in 2015.
Radio Napoli and Neapolitan jazz musicians were the pioneers in the popular diffusion in Italy of American sounds in the difficult post-war years, African-American jazz music, which had its foundations in the Blues and which generated Rock & Roll, Dixieland, Swing, the Bepop and all the rhythms today in vogue.
(Photo at the top: Radio Telefunken del 1950, Ricce 2009)