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Book Review

Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian-American Experience


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Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian-American Experience
Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter
384 Pages
ISBN: #978-1-60461-089-5
Bella Musica Publishing

In this meticulously researched and anecdote-included work, authors Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter present a truly fascinating perspective on both the history and influence of jazz musicians who were Italian immigrants or who were or are of Italian descent.

Certainly, there are references about Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Chuck and Gap Mangione, Joe, Pat, and John La Barbera, Conte and Pete Candoli and the most of the well-known jazzers. However, the authors—to their enormous credit and deep commitment to the art—take the reader back socio-historically to the early days of New Orleans where Italian immigrant musicians such as Nick LaRocca, Wingy Manone, Leon Rappolo and shortly thereafter, Louis Prima and others intermingled musically with Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong.

The portions of this fine work move from historical commentary on to more biographical profile material where artists such as the aforementioned Mangiones, La Barberas, Candolis as well as Joe Lovano, Frank Catalano, Joey DeFrancesco and other jazzers of Italian descent are profiled with impeccable attention to not only their musical contributions, but also, their respective cultural backgrounds, most of which incorporated a flesh and blood thread known as "family" as well as the passion for the arts that emanated from roots in Italy and Sicily.

As could be expected when studying a Grand Canyonesque cultural panorama that is jazz history, there's a tremendous amount of information here. However, rest assured, none of it is trivial, unnecessary or out of context. Further, in no way do the authors misrepresent or downplay the seminal contributions of African-Americans in jazz. Rather, by their impeccable research on the subject at hand they present America's music as a fundamentally dynamic, evolutionary one in which, like New Orleans and America itself, is a glorious and dynamically evolving mingling of African, Caribbean, Western and Eastern European, and other cultural influences.

Make no mistake, this superb contribution to Italian-American jazz history is no trivia-filled attempt to enlighten or surprise the reader about who was Italian. That's beyond the last objective of the authors. Similarly, the book presents itself as highly readable, informative and thought-provoking.

Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica-Jazz and the Italian-American Experience is well-worth a look-see by certainly any jazz fan, whether a paisan or not. Leggere bene!

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