Born: September 26, 1927 | Died: February 3, 2006 Primary Instrument: Piano
Talented jazz musician and the last surviving child of Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Though never actively involved in politics, he made an important contribution to a process that is subtly altering Italians' view of their recent past and transforming his father's image from that of an irascible despot into a benevolent, if occasionally misguided, patriarch.
Ironically, had the fascist regime survived, Romano would have had the greatest difficulty pursuing his chosen career. Jazz, with its roots in black culture, was censured - and censored - by his father's government. American musicians were given Italian names so they could be shoehorned into the country's nationalist outlook. Louis Armstrong, for instance, first became known to Italians as Luigi Fortebraccio.
He learned to play piano and accordion while recovering from a childhood illness. He first heard jazz music through some albums that his older brothers had bought, and he grew to love the American art form. By the early 1950s he had developed a style similar to George Shearing’s eloquent approach to the piano, although he later assimilated some of André Previn’s classically inspired sophistication.
In 1956 Mussolini performed at the first San Remo International Jazz Festival, where he garnered much acclaim and offers to tour. He declined all comers, preferring to stay at home with his family and, perhaps, fearing retribution for his father’s actions. He ended up destitute in Rome, working as a carpenter between sporadic musical jobs, many done under an assumed name in the Naples region.
He wrote jazz record reviews for several publications as well. But it wasn’t long before the jazz world began taking more notice of Mussolini. Among his supporters in the late 1950s were Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, singer Lillian Terry, Swedish baritonist Lars Gullin, and Chet Baker, who became a close friend and frequent musical associate. Mussolini’s first wife, Anna Maria Scicolone, was the sister of actress Sophia Loren and bore him two daughters.
In 1956 Mussolini’s trio recorded his self-titled debut for RCA. Trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti was an early partner. In 1963 the Romano Mussolini All-Stars recorded Jazz Allo Studio 7 (Ricordi), which earned widespread acclaim. This time he did not hesitate to accept the offers of tour packages, and his name was spread further around Europe. The album was followed by Romano Mussolini All-Stars at the Santa Tecla (Philips) later that year.
In the 1980s and 90s Mussolini recorded The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong (Ca’Bianca Club), the Perfect Alibi soundtrack and Soft and Swing (Carosello), the last title an ideal description of his approach to jazz piano.
Mussolini’s jobs as a sideman included three albums with multi-instrumentalist Oscar Klein’s Jazz Show, work with clarinetist Tony Scott, bassist Jan Jankeje and vibist/pianist Enzo Randisi, and arrangements and conducting for guitarist Daniele Groff.
Romano, the youngest of the five children of Il Duce (the Leader), was born in Carpena. He had his first experience of jazz listening to vinyl records belonging to his older brother, Vittorio. There was already a musical streak in the family - Benito Mussolini played the violin - and Romano taught himself the piano. He later recalled accompanying his father as they played classical pieces together.
After the second world war, Romano turned to music for a living. He joined a quartet that recorded a popular version of How High the Moon. But for many years his surname remained a handicap and for a time in the 1950s he used an assumed name, Romano Full. The fascist regime's mistrust of jazz had held back the development of the genre in Italy so that, for longer than in much of the rest of Europe, jazz music in Italy meant traditional jazz. Romano, whose idol was the great Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson, helped win a following for a more contemporary approach. In 1956, he played at the first Italian jazz festival at San Remo.
His career hit a high point in 1963 when his band, the Romano Mussolini All Stars, recorded an album, Jazz allo Studio 7, that won that year's Italian critics award. Its success helped launch him on a series of international tours in which he played with some of the greatest names in 20th-century music, among them Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.
If the Mussolini surname had been a drawback for much of Romano's life, it ceased to be so in the early 1990s, when Italy's old political order collapsed. From the ruins emerged a new right, led by the country's richest man, Silvio Berlusconi, and comprising an unlikely alliance between neo-liberals and neo-fascists. The entry into government in 1994 of Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance, a superficially reshaped version of the Italian Social Movement that had been set up to perpetuate Benito Mussolini's ideas, reignited interest both in fascism and the late dicator's family. It also set in train a process of historical revisionism enthusiastically promoted by Berlusconi, who three years ago said the former dictator never killed anyone.
Romano Mussolini condemned the laws enacted by his father that led to the deportation to Nazi death camps of some 7,000 Italian Jews. But he stopped a very long way short of disowning his political and ideological legacy, and in a recent interview said that he thought 90% of what his father had done was positive. In 2004 he published a memoir entitled Il Duce, My Father, which depicted the fascist leader as a caring, family man.
Romano's first marriage was to the sister of the actor Sophia Loren. One of their two children is the politician Alessandra Mussolini, a fierce defender of her grandfather's memory, who broke with the National Alliance in protest at Fini's insistence on a break with the fascist past. It was on the website of Alessandra Mussolini's breakaway party that the news of her father's death was announced. He was cremated last weekend after a service at a Rome church during which friends from the world of jazz played New Orleans funeral anthems and some members of the congregation gave straight-armed salutes.
The Wonderful World of Louis (2001)
Timeless Blues (2002)
Music Blues (2002)
Jazz Album (2003)
Napule 'nu quarto 'e luna (2003)
Alibi perfetto (2004, soundtrack)
Romano Mussolini Piano&Forte (2002)
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