Friday, October 23, 2009 10/23/09 - jazz and the mob

In today's excerpt - jazz, America's great
indigenous musical art form, found its
financial backing from America's organized

"Jazz music was the classic American art form
that had accompanied
virtually every "glorious" era of mobsterism
in the United States since
the end of the nineteenth century. In
Storyville, the legendary turn-of-the-century
red-light district of New Orleans, ragtime
gave way to a
freer, more blues influenced form of jazz as
practiced by the likes of
Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis
Armstrong. The music had
its roots in the African-American experience;
it was also the music of
the bordello, the speakeasy, and Mob-owned
nightclubs from Boston to
Los Angeles. Jazz was race-mixing music,
through which rich and poor
alike came together out of a desire to skirt
the placid white-bread veneer
of American life (that is, until jazz itself
was co-opted by white-bread

"It is probable that jazz would have been
born without the influence of
the Mob, but it is unlikely the music would
have grown and flourished as
it did without the economic framework
provided by organized crime.
Particularly in the era of the Roaring
Twenties (i.e., Prohibition), when
jazz became an international obsession, money
from bootlegging rackets
made it possible for nightclubs to hire large
orchestras. Jay McShann,
Count Basie, and Duke Ellington all created
world renowned orchestras
that were financed by Mob-controlled
nightclubs. These orchestras
spawned many legends of jazz who developed
their talents and headlined
in smaller clubs, some of which were also Mob

"In Chicago, Al Capone adored the music and
fostered an entire generation of musicians.
In Harlem, the Mob-owned Cotton Club had as its
house band the sophisticated Duke Ellington
Orchestra. Kansas City
had an entire district of jazz clubs and
after-hours joints that spawned
their own version of the music known as
'dirty jazz,' a Delta blues-influenced sound
that gave birth to McShann, Basie, and
Charlie 'Bird'
Parker, among others. This flourishing jazz
district in Kansas
City -
which existed from the early 1920s into the
1930s - was made possible
by a corrupt political machine that served as
a model for the Havana
Mob as constructed by Meyer Lansky, Fulgencio
Batista, et al., and which itself spawned
Afro-Cuban jazz.

T.J. English, Havana Nocturne, Morrow,
Copyright 2007, 2008 by T.J. English, p. 244.


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