Why did jazz greats like Frank Sinatra thrive in mob empires?

When jazz was born in the brothels of New Orleans in the early 20th century, its parents were musicians and mobsters.

Author T.J. English’s latest book, “Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld,” which comes out August 2, explains why mob empires led by the likes of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra Al Capone. flourished within, Meyer Lansky, John T. “Legs” Diamond and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

“Jazz began at the end of a long continuous period of lynching following the Emancipation Proclamation,” English told The Post, speaking from his Manhattan home, where he has lived for 32 years. “Music seems to me to be an attempt to create a new reality,” he said. “Music says, ‘We are alive.’ I see jazz as a reaction to terror and violence.”

English, who has written several books about the criminal underworld, as well as episodes of TV’s “NYPD Blue” and “Homicide: Life on the Street”, said the unlikely relationship between black musicians and Italian mobsters makes sense in the context of an oppressive comes in. century social order.

Clubs lined Manhattan’s 52nd Street, which was once the center of jazz.
Library of Congress William P. Gottlieb Collection

Jazz first began to bubble up in New Orleans, where Sicilian immigrants and black Americans faced the same predicament—they were forced out of wealthy white Anglo-Saxon Protestant society and harassed by corrupt white police officers.

“Black people were less afraid of a Mafiosa boss than a black police officer,” said English, a self-confessed jazz fan. “He saw the crowd as his protection in the commercial market. This was absolutely true of Louis Armstrong. He knew that you have to have your own gangster for safety. ‘Get yourself the biggest gangster you can,’ said Louis. ,

New Orleans recipe – where black artists arm themselves with mobsters who oversaw one of the nation’s first legal Red-Light Districts, Storyvillewhere brothels and bars flourished – spreading to Kansas City, Chicago, New York and then to Las Vegas.

Louis Armstrong In King Oliver'S Creole Jazz Band, 1923.
Louis Armstrong in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, 1923. The band often played in clubs run by Capone’s mafia in Chicago.
Hogan Jazz Archive Tulane University

In 1920, Prohibition marked the beginning of a new era for nightlife, when white society began giving speeches.

“They went where the wine was,” said English. Nightclubs became socially acceptable, jazz entered mainstream entertainment even though society otherwise remained isolated, and underworld stew became the entertainment business model.

And many mob bosses really appreciated jazz.

,[Al] Capone was the greatest benefactor. He loved music,” English said, adding that his henchmen had once “kidnapped” New York City native Fats Waller after a 1926 performance in Chicago, in order to surprise Capone on his birthday. Waller was greatly relieved when he realized what was happening.”[Capone] It was good for the musicians: they spread money in the world of jazz. ,

Apart from shelling just for entertainment and booze, the dacoits continued their share of the bargain to keep the cast safe.

By the late 1920s, white artists had co-opted jazz, and artists such as Bing Crosby had brought the sound mainstream, perfecting vocal pop jazz. By 1932, Crosby was one of America’s biggest singing stars and when a crook tried to take advantage of Crosby by extorting money for security—that is, protection from the crook who beat him—the crowd stepped in.

Al Capone
Al Capone was “the biggest donor” to jazz musicians, said writer TJ English.
library of Congress

“At the time Crosby was kneading the dough and his management, the MCA, had ties to the crowd,” said English. “The MCA sent a mobster named Jack McGurn to handle it. McGurn takes the man and kicks S-T out of him and Bing is never fired again.

Bing and Jack – also known as “Machine Gun Jack” who reportedly took part in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, when seven Irish mobsters were gunned down by Capone’s rival Italian crew – Later became golfing friends.

But “the biggest singer in the United States playing golf with a gangster didn’t look so good,” English said. “So Bing ended the friendship. Jack was actually murdered eight months later, so it was probably wiser to end it.”

Even jazz became an all-American musical and the genre spread to different genres, from Crosby’s crooning to wild swing and then to bebop, the criminal underworld and ties to mobsters, whether Italian, Irish or Jewish, tightly. were tied.

Bing Crosby
Writer TJ English told The Post, “A crook tried to extort Bing Crosby for security money.”
Bateman Archive / Getty Images

“The most popular club in New York City in the 1940s was Birdland, owned by Mo Levy, a gangster who sold heroin outside the club,” recalled English.

Moe’s brother Irving managed the club, happily working alongside big stars such as Marlon Brando and writers such as Norman Mailer, who were regulars. one night in 1959, Irving was stabbed and killed by a pimp while the band was playing. “It was sensational,” said English. A newspaper headline read, ‘Jazz serves as backdrop to death.’ ,

Then along came the Rat Pack and the Old Blue Eyes, who ruled the modern pop jazz scene, and their headquarters, crowd-funded Las Vegas, became the epitome of glamorous American nightlife and “The Good Life”.

A Show At The Birdland Restaurant On December 16, 1949.  From Left To Right, Trumpeter Max Kaminsky, Saxophonist Lester Young, &Quot;Attractive Lips&Quot; Page, Charlie Parker On Alto Sax, And Pianist Lenny Tristano.
On December 16, 1949, Birdland featured a show (left to right) featuring trumpet Max Kaminsky, saxophonist Lester Young, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Charlie Parker on alto sax, and pianist Lenny Tristano.
Bateman Archive / Getty Images
Ol' Blue Eyes At The Westchester Premiere Theater In 1976.  Top Row: Paul Castellano, Gregory De Palma, Frank Sinatra, Thomas Marsan, Carlo Gambino, Aladena 'Jimmy' Fratiano, Salvatore Spatola.  Bottom Line: Joe Gambino And Richard Fusco
Old Blue Eyes (third from left in back row) at the Westchester Premiere Theater in 1976. Top Row: Paul Castellano, Gregory DePalma, Frank Sinatra, Thomas Marsan, Carlo Gambino, Aladena “Jimmy” Fratiano and Salvatore Spatola. Bottom line: Joe Gambino and Richard Fusco.
fbi photo

“Sinatra’s relationship with the crowd was very specific, very real,” said English. “The robocalls ran casinos and clubs and booked music of their choice.”

Which, until the 1960s, didn’t joke with young people shouting for hard rock, an anti-British invasion or the establishment of hippie culture.

“Young people thought Vegas was hokey. The music was the music their parents loved,” said English. Jazz, once the music of rebellion, compared the pop, rock and soul of youth culture to the old-fashioned And by the 1980s, the old gangster world had collapsed and jazz had lost its financial backing.

Until then, jazz has been recognized for its artistic qualities and cultural institutions such as . was recognized for Jazz at Lincoln Center stepped into.

,[At the beginning] There was no protection from the institutions of culture and wealth,” said English. “Jazz was not going to be at that level. It had to earn its place at the table. ,

It would never have happened without the crowd, and artists who remained silent for decades about what they saw.

“He kept his mouth shut,” said English of the musicians. “They played, got paid, and didn’t talk outside of school.”

English said it was ultimately because mobsters and jazz greats were united in a common goal that mattered to them.

“It was really that pursuit of the American Dream,” said English. “Just from the gutter.”

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