Bella Musica Publishing
4417 N. LaPorte Avenue
Chicago, IL 60630
We sent a follow-up letter both to Margasak and to the Reader's editors, asking for a chance to respond to many of the review's assertions. We have yet to hear back from either of them; therefore, to add some fairness and balance, we are posting this unduly negative review on our website, complete with our own direct comments (in italics)."
It's indisputable that Italian-Americans have been important to jazz. But so have countless other ethnic groups in the U.S. Dal Cerro and Witter acknowledge that jazz was a black creation, but they not only strain their credibility when they say they noticed "some links between patterns of Italian immigration and some elements in the birth of jazz," they engage in absurd historical revisionism. It's hardly a secret that jazz was a brilliant hybrid music that freely borrowed all sorts of ideas from European culture—Italian opera among them—but it's offensive to posit that Italian immigrants had such a direct hand.
The authors came to the book project as Italian-American historians rather than musicologists, so it's not surprising that the musical analysis is rather light, focusing more on personalities, history, and social aspects. There's nothing wrong with that, although some of the errors are hard to swallow. In the first chapter, which discusses the music's emergence in New Orleans,
the authors bizarrely mention the Connecticut composer Charles Ives, erroneously labeling him Creole.
They seem to have confused the very white New Englander—who did draw upon a wide swath of influences in a polyglot fashion akin to jazz—with New Orleans composer Louis Gottschalk.
In a chapter about Philadelphia organist Joey DeFrancesco they write that he "introduced the Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument largely used in church settings, into the modern everyday jazz vernacular," an assertion that would probably confuse Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland, Baby Face Willette, Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, or Bill Doggett if they were still living. One of the problems with self-publishing is a lack of editorial oversight.
An entire chapter is devoted to New Orleans cornetist Nick LaRocca, whose import is distorted because he played on the first commercial jazz recording by the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band, whose race made them early ambassadors for the burgeoning form despite a lack of originality and technical brilliance; they were to King Oliver what Pat Boone was to Little Richard.
It's also a bit insulting that the authors felt the need to lump female subjects into a single chapter, as if their gender disqualified them from fitting in with the men.
Still, the book is readable and the extended chapter called "Italian Americans in Jazz: the Ensemble Cast" delivers a thorough chronicle of lesser-known figures including Chicagoans like Joe Vito, Danny Polo, and Gene Esposito.