Jazz Italian Style by Anna Harwell Celenza explores an interesting, and mostly obscure topic, jazz in Italy in the 1930s under Mussolini and how it might have influenced American jazz. The book happened almost by accident. Celenza is a music historian who found herself spending a few years in Rome. While doing research on a related topic she discovered the world of Italian jazz in between the two world wars. While Hitler outlawed jazz as being degenerate, Mussolini liked it and was very supportive.
Jazz was first introduced into Italy after World War One by US servicemen. It primarily took the form of swing bands and flourished. After the war as people tried to distance themselves from Mussolini, the jazz stars of the 1930s fell out of favor and were mostly forgotten. But they may have had an unexpected impact on US Jazz, especially on the vocals of Frank Sinatra.
In the 1930s Italian American singers and songs became popular. Most of the singers like Dean Martin and Perry Como were southern Italian by heritage. They primarily sang with a Neapolitan accent. Sinatra’s mother was from Genoa so his northern Italian influenced Italian did not lend itself to properly singing these songs. He only recorded one song in Italian early in his career and it was not successful. Its success was not helped when Dean Martin released a version a month after Sinatra with the proper Neapolitan accent.
Sinatra had some early recognition when he and three other singers from Hoboken won the Major Bowes show. They won the right to tour with the Major. However, the touring was rough as Frank was criticized for his Italian heritage and even physically attacked in some of the small Midwestern towns they toured. He went home to rethink his career.
During this time at home Sinatra perfected his well-known singing style. At this time the Italian jazz singers where popular in Italian American homes, especially homes with northern Italian heritage like Frank. These singers were very different than the currently popular southern Italian singers in the US. Frank crafted his own unique style while likely listening to these singers from his mother's homeland. After a few years he got a job singing in a local club that was live broadcasting to New York. Harry James heard Frank and recruited him. James asked Sinters to change his name as he thought that Sinatra sounded too Italian. Frank refused and James backed down. A year later Frank went over to Tommy Dorsey’s band and became very famous.
Celenza provides a very interesting and well-written exploration of how the influence of jazz went back and forth across the Atlantic. She even provides links to sample music of the era. I highly recommend the book to both history and music fans. Here is a link to Cambridge University Press page covering the book. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/jazz-italian-style/3F6A0A142777F0C74541CD56EA5F7F8B