Legendary jazz clarinetist and jazz composer, Leon Roppolo, a founding member of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings,  (1902-1943).

Legendary jazz clarinetist and jazz composer, Leon Roppolo, a founding member of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings,  (1902-1943).

Dave Roppolo is the grand nephew of legendary jazz clarinetist, Leon Joseph Roppolo (1902-1943). Leon also played violin, alto sax and guitar. The elder Roppolo was a foundational figure in the history of jazz clarinet and the first jazz clarinetist to be recorded. His delicate yet powerful clarinet solos later influenced the likes of Irving Fazola, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Pete Fountain. In his book, "The Kingdom of Swing", Benny Goodman credits Leon Roppolo thusly:

"My idea of a great clarinet player...was Leon Ropollo, who was playing at the Friars' Inn then with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and I did my best to sound like him. I never heard him play in person more than once, but there were plenty of good records to study up on. [p33]"

In 1921, Leon headed to Chicago with his childhood friends George Brunies (trombone) and Paul Mares (trumpet) to join the Friars Society Orchestra which evolved into the legendary New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK). The New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) were one of the most influential jazz bands of the early to mid-1920s. The band included New Orleans and Chicago musicians who helped shape Chicago jazz and influenced many younger jazz musicians. The group recorded a series of records for Gennett Records in 1922 and 1923. On two of these sessions, they were joined by the pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton. After their engagement at the Friar's Inn ended, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings were largely scattered and disorganized. They re-formed periodically to make recordings, with significant member turnover (Roppolo and Mares were more or less the leaders and constants of the group), but the group never played all together again. They went their separate ways: Paul Mares continued to play music, releasing a record in 1935 and ran the P&M New Orleans Barbeque with his wife in the late 1930s. In 1925, Leon Roppolo was deemed mentally unstable and spent the last years of his life in and out of institutions until his early death in 1945, though he managed to keep playing music as best he could. Great Uncle Leon died years before Dave Roppolo was born. Leon Joseph Roppolo is buried in the family plot at the historic Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans. His final resting place is ironically close to the site of the Halfway House dance hall where he often performed as a member of The Halfway House Orchestra.

Credits:

The Jazz Clarinet (Eric Seddon) http://www.allmusic.com/artist/leon-roppolo-mn0000198329

 Leon Roppolo Biography (Ron Depasquale-ALLMUSIC) http://thejazzclarinet.blogspot.com/2013/02/leon-roppolo-and-new-orleans-rhythm.html

Wikipedia (various contributors) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Roppolo

 

Written by: Leon Roppolo, Elmer Schoebel and Paul Mares (1922).

Paul Mares, c / George Brunies, tb / Leon Roppolo, cl / Mel Stitzel, p / Ben Pollack, d. Richmond, IN, March 13, 1923. Accompanied by Jelly Roll Morton on piano.