Jazz And The Italian American Experience

A new book explores Italian American musicians and the challenges they faced to achieve their American Dream.

This article, written by Gary G. Vercelli, appears on Capital Public Radio

Aside from being great jazz musicians, what do Steve Gadd, Louie Bellson, Flip Phillips, Tony Scott, and Frank Capp have in common?

You wouldn’t know it from their last names, but each of these talented gentlemen are of Italian heritage. Sometimes names were changed (Americanized) for the sake of simplicity or fitting in (for it hasn’t always been as popular to be Italian as it is today). Thus, Cappuccio became Capp, Sciacca became Scott, and Balassoni became Bellson. Steve Gadd’s mother’s maiden name was Deliberti, her family having emigrated from Palermo.

In their recent book “Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience,” co-authors Bill Dal Cerro and David Anthony Witter document “the many cultural barriers Italian-American musicians faced in the pursuit of the American Dream.”  They also postulate that the importance of melody and harmony to those of Italian extraction make for a common bond in their interpretation in any music, be it opera, popular music, or jazz.

In this 383-page reference treasure, famous singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett are profiled along with lesser known but important contemporary improvisers such as Frank Catalano, Jerry Bergonzi, and Joey Calderazzo. The authors point to several examples of Sinatra’s and Bennett’s contribution to the civil rights movement as well as their commitment to playing a vital role in the integration of jazz.

But were Sinatra and Bennett jazz singers?  Read more on Capital Public Radio.

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