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 crime:

"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 America).

"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 owned.

"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, Batista, et al. and which itself spawned Afro-Cuban jazz."


T.J. English


Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba...and Then Lost It to the Revolution


William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing


Copyright 2007, 2008 by T.J. English


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