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February 2006

Fradley Garner By

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Romano Mussolini has joined the big band above. My scout, Jerry Gordon, forwarded a Reuters obit from Steve Barbone—a name that may ring a bell. "I am a jazz clarinetist based in Philadelphia, doing around 250 gigs a year," Barbone replied to my e-mail. "In 1999, I played at the Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp as a sideman in Ed Polcer's Band, with Joe Ascione, Daryl Hannah, Tom Artin, Ed and a bassist." Steve, who leads The Barbone Street Jazz Band, "went to Italy in 1962 to visit the Italian branch of my family, meet and hear my cousin play jazz on Capri. He was a trumpeter in a club there. The pianist just knocked us all out and when he was introduced to me, I realized that he was Benito Mussolini's son! That evening I got to sit in with my cousin, Michael Barbone, and Romano Mussolini. Played two songs with them and then just watched and listened. His style was unique because he was entirely self-taught. He had no concept of "Rules," perhaps one reason he was so interesting to hear. I believe he played with guys like Dizzy and Tony Scott along the way." Steve suggests that curious readers Google "Romano Mussolini + Pianist" and see what comes up.

Romano Mussolini, 79, pianist, Carpena di Forli, Italy, Sept. 26, 1927—Rome, Italy, Jan. 31, 2006. Mussolini, who listened to records and taught himself to play jazz piano, managed to emerge from the shadow of his dictator father to become a "refined and sensitive" performer who appeared with his own group on tours with Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lionel Hampton. He died in hospital following a series of ailments.

The third and youngest son of Benito Mussolini and Donna Rachele Guidi, Romano was introduced to film and music by his older brother, Vittorio. After his father's death in April 1945, the teenage Romano went into exile in Ischia with his mother and four older children. Vittorio played George Shearing and other records then banned in Italy. Later, Romano listened to Oscar Peterson, his greatest inspiration. For nearly a decade, he worked around Naples, usually under the alias Romano Full. He used his own surname at jazz festivals from the mid-1950s, reaching peak popularity in the 1960s in the Romano Mussolini All-Stars Band. A 1963 record, "Jazz Allo Studio 7" launched him abroad. He made at least 38 records, some under his own name and mostly with small Italian groups.

Ray Barretto, 76, percussionist-bandleader, New York, NY, April 29, 1929—Hackensack, NJ, Feb. 17, 2006. Raymond Barretto, a fiery conga drummer specialized in salsa, died of heart failure and pneumonia, according to his wife, Brandy. In January he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, America's highest award in the genre. Known as "manos dura" (hard hands) for his relentless and unstoppable style, Barretto, the father of three who lived in Warwick, NY, was said to be a 6-foot-4 "gentle giant" offstage.

In a Yankee Stadium concert in the 1970s, he played a duet with Mongo Santamaria, another conga drummer, that "drove the massive crowd into such a frenzy that the concert had to be abandoned," Steve Voce wrote in London's The Independent. Barretto played and recorded with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Wes Montgomery, Red Garland and Art Blakey, among other notables. He made more than 50 albums as a leader. His last album, Time Was—Time Is, released in September, was nominated for a Grammy award.

Putte Wickman, 81, clarinetist and bandleader, Borlänge, Sweden, Sept. 10, 1924—Stockholm, Sweden, Feb. 14, 2006. Hans Olof (Putte) Wickman, Sweden's leading clarinetist and a bandleader, who made guest appearances in American jazz clubs and albums with Buddy DeFranco and Eddie Daniels, died of cancer, according to a friend. Self- taught, Wickman, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, was tendered the Illis Quorum gold medal in 1994, his nation's highest citizen's citation. He gigged in American clubs, and in 1999 toured and recorded in Sweden with his longtime friend and inspiration, Buddy DeFranco. Wickman took part in at least 141 recording sessions. A duo album with the bassist Red Mitchell, The Very Thought of You, was released in 1987-88.

Fayard Nicholas, 91, tap dancer, 1914 - Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 24, 2006. Fayard Nicholas, who with his brother Harold inspired generations of dancers, from Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to Savion Glover, died at home from stroke complications. He and his brother danced with acrobatic elegance, leaping racial hurdles to fame on Broadway and in Hollywood. "He was aware of his place in the history of music, yet never boastful about it," Mark Cantor, a friend, noted on the Jazz-Research Net list. "Many years ago he told me, 'We...always considered ourselves to be jazz musicians. It's just that our instruments were our feet.'"

David Weber, 92, clarinetist and teacher, Vilnius, Lithuania, Dec. 18, 1913—New York, NY, Jan. 23, 2006. David Weber, a classical clarinetist and master teacher who played for Toscanini, Stokowski and Leinsdorf, continued instructing up to June. "Benny Goodman took lessons (but never paid and took his best reeds, Mr. Weber once said) and so did the jazz clarinetist Kenny Davern," according to The New York Times.

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