Leon Roppolo was an early jazz clarinetist who, also, played saxophone and
guitar and composed. He's considered a pioneer of the Jazz solo. He may be
best remembered for his time with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the
Halfway House Orchestra in New Orleans.
Leon Joseph Roppolo was born in Lutcher, LA in 1902, to Sicilian parents; his
family moved to New Orleans when Leon was a child. He learned to play the
clarinet and before he became a teenager, he was already playing
professionally at Milneburg and Bucktown.
At 15, he went on a vaudeville tour that ended in a stint with a riverboat band.
He joined childhood friends George Brunies and Paul Mares in Chicago and
formed what was to become the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The band was
highly regarded in Chicago, and Roppolo's style influenced several young
musicians, most notably, Benny Goodman. NORK may be best known outside
of New Orleans for their recording session with Jelly Roll Morton in 1923.
After the band's break-up, Roppolo went to New York for a brief stay, then
joined another river boat band. When he returned to New Orleans, a new
version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings was formed. During this time, he
worked with other bands in the city, especially Abbie Brunies' Halfway House
Orchestra. He recorded with both NORK and Halfway House Orchestra.
Mr. Roppolo's compositions include Milneburg Joys (written with Jelly Roll
Morton), Tin Roof Blues, Farewell Blues and other well-known songs.
Like Buddy Bolden and Bix Beiderbecke, Leon Roppolo's career was tragically
cut short by the onset of mental illness. While still in his 20's, his behavior
became so erratic that his family committed him to a mental institution. WIth
the exception of some brief visits home, in the care of relatives, he was to
remain in the hospital the rest of his life.
While there, he organized and played in a band. And, when he came home for
short visits, he would sometimes sit in with local bands. It's said that his
musician friends remained loyal and supportive.
Leon Roppolo died at the age of 41 and is buried in a New Orleans cemetery, in
sight of the location of the old Halfway House, where he played so many times.
|Halfway House Orchestra: left to right, Charlie Cordella, Mickey Marcour,
Leon Roppolo, Abbie Brunies, Bill Eastwood, Joe Loyacano and Leo Adde.