A Reason to Give Thanks for the Mob?
The mafia helped change the face of American music by giving jazz artists a place to practice their craft at mob-run nightclubs and restaurants. Many of the brothels of Storyville in New Orleans where Louis Armstrong got his start in music were run by Sicillian mobsters. Henry Matranga, one of the most powerful mobsters at the time, owned the tavern where Armstrong played his first gig in 1917. Mafia connections helped keep these clubs and brothels open and protected from police raids in the early days.
When jazz musicians migrated from the south to cities like Chicago and New York, mafia-run clubs were there to welcome them. These clubs gave jazz musicians the exposure they needed to make jazz music a national phenomenon by giving them a stage to play on and good wages. This caused some trouble for jazz musicians as they became more popular, though.
Armstrong found himself in the middle of a feud between two managers, Tommy Rockwell and Johnny Collins, who fought over control of Armstrong’s career. Rockwell, Armstrong’s former manager decided to use force to get his prized client back, going so far as to send feared gangsters such as Dutch Schultz and Frankie Foster to visit Armstrong and bring him back to New York. The gangsters didn’t stop following Armstrong around until he decided to bring in Joe Glaser, who was notoriously connected to Al Capone, on as his manager. Despite Glaser’s dangerous past, the two remained partners until Glaser’s death in 1969.
Pictured: Cork O’Keefe (band manager), Louis Armstrong, and Joe Glaser.