Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld

Morrow. Aug. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9780063031418. $29.99. MUSIC
English (Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba) expertly explores the connection between organized crime and jazz from its inception to 1980. Relying mostly on secondary sources, he initially links the growth of jazz during the 1920s and ’30s to mob-owned clubs and corrupt political bosses. He demonstrates how Louis Armstrong first became popular through Al Capone-operated night spots in Chicago and through management from Capone lackey Joe Glaser. English outlines the direct relationship between the meteoric rise of Duke Ellington and gangster Owney Madden who owned the Cotton Club. He moves to Kansas City, where the crooked political machine of Tom Pendergast and mobster John Lazia fostered the growth of booze-drenched venues that nurtured the Kansas City sound of Bennie Moten and Count Basie. English continues with Frank Sinatra’s association with the underworld from his early friendship with gangster Willie Moretti to his Vegas days with Sam Giancana, and chronicles the rise and fall of Morris Levy, owner of Manhattan’s nightspot Birdland and Roulette Records.
VERDICT Though sometimes touching on non-jazz artists (like Bobby Darin) and violence unrelated to the mob (e.g., a beating of Miles Davis), English’s book adroitly chronicles jazz music’s iron-clad, often-unspoken ties to the mob.
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