In today’s world, getting this many Italian-Americans together in one place probably violates some racketeering laws. But back in the early 1950s, come to think of it, was probably a crime too! Violinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978) achieved lasting jazz fame for his duets with guitarist Eddie Lang in the 1920s and 1930s. He worked with Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, and Zoot Sims. In 1937 he met guitarist Tony Romano. Romano built a career as a guitarist/composer/arranger/singer/actor, touring with Bob Hope’s USO shows from World War II through Vietnam.
This recording is actually two dates. The first eight tracks come from a duo organized by Johnny Mercer in 1954. Venuti and Romano seem to read each other’s thoughts easily sliding into these standards and original tunes. In today’s hip multi-ethnic culture we would marvel at the diversity of Romano’s Italian arrangement of the traditional “Angelina.” Back then, the two friends merely played the familiar. Venuti’s violin playing weaves the European with swing fiddle. No guitar face here, it’s all love.
The remainder of the disc was from a 1953 session sans Venuti plus a lengthy interview with Tony Romano. Romano displays a deft talent at song, sounding like a Sinatra crooner with a Dean Martin delivery. Back when jazz and popular (pop?) music went hand-in-hand, a good melody or sweet delivery made careers. Guys like Venuti and Romano probably won’t be mentioned in Ken Burns’ PBS jazz spectacle, but they were important pieces in our American story of jazz music.