Maurice Rocco

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Maurice Rocco
Maurice Rocco 1944.jpg
Maurice Rocco in 1944
Background information
Birth name Maurice Rockhold
Born June 26, 1915
Oxford, Ohio, United States
Died March 24, 1976
Genres
  • jazz
  • stride piano
Years active 1931–1974
Labels
  • Decca
  • Guild
  • Musicraft
Notable instruments
piano

Maurice Rocco, born Maurice Rockhold (June 26, 1915 – March 24, 1976) was an African-American pianist, singer, actor, and composer known for playing boogie-woogie piano and his disdain for using a piano bench. He was a top nightclub and theater draw in the 1940s, and made several film appearances. He toured the United States, Canada, and Europe before becoming a fixture in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was murdered.

Biography[edit]

Maurice Rockhold was born in 1915[1] in Oxford, Ohio to a music teacher mother.[2] His mother taught him classical piano starting at age 10,[3] but did not interfere with his interest in rhythm playing as long as he finished his lessons.[2] He entered Miami University as a music student (from where he was later to earn a Master of Music degree,)[4] but soon quit to work for radio station WLW.[2] In addition, he also taught piano harmony at Oberlin College.[3] His work at WLW impressed Noble Sissle so much that he hired him to work with the Rogers Sisters at the Kit Kat Club in New York, and the act was renamed The Three Roccos.[2] He was to later legally change his last name from Rockhold to Rocco.[2] In 1938, Rocco left the club to participate in two films, Vogues of 1938 and 52nd Street.[2] He returned to New York to form his own band,[2] which included Alton Moore, Arville Harris, and Bobby Holmes among its members.[5] By the early 1940s he was no longer fronting a band, but was working as a solo act.[6]

Decca 8574, Tea for Two

Between 1940 and 1941 he cut 14 sides for Decca,[2] most of which were released on their "Sepia" series.[7] He did not join active military service because his poor eyesight classified him as 4-F,[3] but during World War II he entertained American troops, both in person[8] and as part of the American Forces Network Jubilee radio program.[9] Rocco spent most of the 1940s headlining at nightclubs and theaters (where his engagements would extend into months) and participating in vaudeville revues.[10][11][12][13] By 1944 he had a US $500,000 insurance policy on his hands.[3] Alongside Mary Lou Williams, he represented the United States in the second African Dance Festival at Carnegie Hall in April 1945.[14] He was married to Iantha on July 3 of that year.[15] Later in 1945, he appeared in his most famous role in the film Incendiary Blond. His earnings in 1945 topped U.S. $250,000.[16] Despite all the professional success, this marriage was short lived. Iantha filed for divorce before their first anniversary amid allegations of physical and mental abuse.[15] He signed to RCA Victor Records in 1949.[17]

In the early 1950s he made tours of Europe and Southeast Asia.[18] Alongside Slim Gaillard, he was in 1953 solicited to play a lead role in a film to be entitled "Two Joes from Georgia".[19] Rocco fell into legal difficulties in the late 1950s regarding bad checks: he was jailed over Christmas 1957 in Cleveland,[20] and was accused of the same offense in July 1958.[21] He moved to Europe before spending the last 15 years of his life performing in Thailand,[22] where he was a regular tourist attraction at the Bamboo Bar in the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.[23][24] He was found slashed to death in his apartment, death having occurred on March 24, 1976. The murder weapon was his own Malaysian knife.[22] At the time of his death he was married to Mary Arlene Rocco (1914–1994).[25] He is buried at Woodside Cemetery in Oxford.[1]

Performance style[edit]

Rocco was billed as "Maurice Rocco and His Rockin' Rhythm" in nightclubs and his recordings.[10] Maurice was most famous for standing while playing, not using a piano bench.[8] The origin of his playing posture has been credited to different sources. In 1944 Rocco claimed that he started standing in 1941, when a customer was sitting on his piano bench and Rocco, intimidated by the heft of this customer, decided that it would be best to play without the customary seat. He eschewed a piano bench from this point on because of the positive reaction from the crowd that night.[3] While playing, he would alternately beat out the rhythm with his feet, or perform dance moves.[26] Billboard described his playing as "Rocking and Riotous" but panned his singing ability.[27] His nightclub performances were known to be uncommonly boistrous for the period,[13] even moving the piano from one end of the stage to the other with "violent energy,"[28] but Duke Ellington and Mabel Mercer praised his ability to perform in a sophisticated manner.[22] His showmanship was as recognized as his piano playing,[29][30] and he was known to favor wearing a pea-green dinner jacket.[31] Critic Peter Silvester describes Rocco's boogie-woogie style as "technically slick" but "devoid of genuine boogie-woogie tone coloring."[32]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Rocco was a headlining act for much of the 1940s, both in the United States and England.[17] His stand-up piano playing became a byline.[33] Because of his appearances in Hollywood musicals and "soundies" (musical short films) that were exported to Britain during the Second World War, Rocco's playing style was to influence several European post-war boogie-woogie specialists.[32] He was an early influence on Ramsey Lewis[34] and Bobby Short.[35]

Recordings[edit]

Rocco made his first recordings for Decca. Some of his most popular recordings first appeared on the Guild label, with Cozy Cole on drums and Mack Stewart on bass. When this label went out of business, its catalog was sold to Musicraft Records[36][37] in 1946,[38] which re-issued several Rocco sides. Subsequently he cut a few additional sides for this label.

Discography[edit]

Maurice Rocco in 1960
Title Recording Date Issue Notes
At Sundown September 1946 Musicraft 443, Allegro 4110 (LP) [39][40]
Begin the Beguine Guild 102, Musicraft 353 [40][41]
Blue Skies Guild 148, Musicraft 427 [27][41]
Cocktails for Two Guild 117, Musicraft 364 [40][41]
Donkey Serenade, The September 27, 1940 Decca 8533 [7]
Easter Parade September 1946 Musicraft 452, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]
Hold Me Baby March 11, 1941 Decca 8558 [7]
Hour of Parting, The September 1946 Musicraft 451 [40]
How Come You Do Me Like You Do? March 11, 1941 Decca 8558 [7]
I Can't Get Started Musicraft 427 [27]
In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree Guild 103, Musicraft 368 [40][41]
Invitation to the Blues September 1946 Musicraft 449, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]
Java Jive March 11, 1941 Decca 8544 [7]
Jungle Drums September 27, 1940 Decca 8533 [7]
Lullaby of Broadway Guild 148 [41]
Little Rock Getaway March 11, 1941 Decca 8544 [42]
My Tzatzkela September 1946 Musicraft 443 [40][43]
On the Sunny Side of the Street September 1946 Musicraft 450, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]
One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else), The March 11, 1941 Decca 8574 [42]
Rhumboogie September 27, 1940 Decca 8504 [7]
Rocco Blues September 27, 1940 Decca 8504 [7]
Rocco's Boogie Woogie September 27, 1940 Decca 8523 [7]
Rose Room September 1946 Musicraft 451, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]
St. Louis Blues Guild 102, Musicraft 353 [40][41]
Somebody Loves Me September 1946 Musicraft 449 [40]
Tea for Two March 11, 1941 Decca 8574 [42]
Sugar Guild 117, Musicraft 364 [40][41]
Tonky Blues September 27, 1940 Decca 8523 [7]
Tunke Blues Guild 103, Musicraft 368 [40][41]
Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams September 1946 Musicraft 452, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]
You Can Depend of Me September 1946 Musicraft 450, Allegro 4110 (LP) [40]

Compositions[edit]

Film[edit]

Rocco appeared in numerous Hollywood musicals in the 1940s and 1950s.[22]

Radio[edit]

Rocco appeared regularly on network radio programs. Besides the usual guest spots, he was featured regularly on Duffy's Tavern and The Radio Hall of Fame.[53]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar – Maurice Rocco". Bman's Blues Report. March 26, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Mama Didn't Object, so Rocco Went to Town". The Afro American. January 29, 1944. p. 8. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Erskine (August 28, 1944). "Standing Up at Piano Transformed Rocco from Mediocrity to Success". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Cohen, Harold V. (January 26, 1948). "The Drama Desk". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 20. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  5. ^ Chilton, John (1985). Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306802430. 
  6. ^ Chilton, John (1997). Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music. University of Michigan Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780472084784. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Abrams, Steve; Settlemier, Tyrone (December 7, 2011). "Decca 8500 series Numerical Listing". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Ambrose, Hugh (2010). The Pacific. Penguin. ISBN 1101185848. 
  9. ^ Lotz, Rainer E.; Neuert, Ulrich (1985). The AFRS "Jubilee" transcription programs: an exploratory discography, Volume 1. N. Ruecker. 
  10. ^ a b "Profiles". Billboard. April 3, 1943. p. 17. 
  11. ^ "Vaudeville Reviews". Billboard. March 5, 1949. p. 43. 
  12. ^ "Total Stem Trade Tapers; MH Fair 142½G, Others Dive". Billboard. October 26, 1945. p. 43. 
  13. ^ a b "Night Club Reviews – Chez Paree, Chicago". Billboard. August 5, 1944. p. 26. 
  14. ^ Perpener, John O. III (2012). "Asadata Dafora Horton (1890–1965)". Danceheritage.org. The Dance Heritage Coalition. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "Rocco Stomped Her, Says Wife in Separation Suit". The Afro American. October 26, 1946. p. 3. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  16. ^ "N.Y. Columnists Last Week". The Afro American (Baltimore, Maryland). December 22, 1945. p. 10. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Mack, Otto (May 24, 1949). "The Record Parade". Baltimore African-American. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Jazzpianist Rocco overleden". De Waarheid (Amsterdam). March 26, 1976. p. 3. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  19. ^ "New York Beat". Jet Magazine. April 16, 1953. p. 64. 
  20. ^ "Pianist Maurice Rocco Jailed on Check Charge". Jet Magazine. January 9, 1958. p. 56. 
  21. ^ Winchell, Walter (July 14, 1958). "Walter Winchell of New York". The Lakeland Ledger (Lakeland, Florida). p. 4. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Pianist Killed". The Montreal Gazette. March 26, 1976. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  23. ^ Orgibet, Jorges (1982). From Siam to Thailand: backdrop to the land of smiles. Thailand: Kofco. p. 135. 
  24. ^ Ellington, Duke (1976). Music Is My Mistress. De Capo Press. p. 381. ISBN 9780306800337. 
  25. ^ "Compass area obituaries". Rochester Sentinel – Compass edition. January 19, 1994. p. 2. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Incendiary Blonde finds Rocco Up to Old Tricks". The African American. October 20, 1945. p. 11. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  27. ^ a b c "Advance Record Releases". Billboard. December 7, 1946. p. 119. 
  28. ^ "Well-known Pianist Stars at Chez Paree". The Montreal Gazette. March 23, 1951. p. 9. 
  29. ^ Selchow, Manfred; Lohmann, Karsten (1988). Profoundly blue: a bio-discographical scrapbook on Edmond Hall. M. Selchow. p. 207. 
  30. ^ O'Day, Anita (1989). High Times, Hard Times. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 278. ISBN 9781617744426. 
  31. ^ Dent, Alan (1950). Nocturnes and Rhapsodies. H. Hamilton. p. 154. 
  32. ^ a b Silvester, Peter J. (2009). The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like God. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810869332. 
  33. ^ Berle, Milton (August 19, 1949). "Actor Insures Bob Hope to Insure Gag Supply". The Miami Herald. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  34. ^ Stokes, W. Royal (2002). Living the Jazz Life: Conversations With Forty Musicians About Their Careers in Jazz. Oxford University Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780195152494. 
  35. ^ Holden, Stephen (May 4, 1997). "Celebrating The Man Who Casts a Spell At the Carlyle". New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  36. ^ McGrath, Bob (2007). Volume 2 of The R & B Indies: An Encyclopedic Exploration of African American Music and Independent Record Labels from 1940 to 1980. Eyeball Productions. p. 272. ISBN 9780968644546. 
  37. ^ Gart, Galen (1989). The American Record Label Directory and Dating Guide, 1940–1959. Milford, New Hampshire: Big Nickel Publications. p. 99. ISBN 0-936433-11-6. 
  38. ^ Gorder, Erika (1998). "Guide to the Musicraft Records, Inc., Records 1937–1960". Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries. Rutgers University. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  39. ^ "Advance Record Releases". Billboard. December 7, 1946. p. 31. 
  40. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Abrams, Steve; Settlemier, Tyrone (December 6, 2012). "Musicraft 78rpm numerical listing discography – 200 through 600". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved July 8, 2013. 
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h i Abrams, Steve; Settlemier, Tyrone (April 20, 2010). "GUILD 78rpm numerical listing discography". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved July 8, 2013. 
  42. ^ a b c Jasen, David A. (2007). Ragtime: An Encyclopedia, Discography, and Sheetography. CRC Press. p. 368. ISBN 9780415978620. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  43. ^ "Advance Record Releases". Billboard. December 7, 1946. p. 112. 
  44. ^ "Index to African American material in the Sheet Music Collection". Research Guide. Virginia Historical Society. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  45. ^ Rocco's Boogie Woogie (78rpm) (in English). Decca Records. 1940. 8523A. 
  46. ^ Tonky Blues (78rpm) (in English). Decca Records. 1940. 8523B. 
  47. ^ Stearns, Marshall Winslow; Stearns, Jean (1968). Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. Da Capo Press. p. 412. ISBN 9780306805530. 
  48. ^ "Nightclub Cavalcade in "52nd St., Studio". Prescott Evening Courier. February 28, 1938. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  49. ^ Richards, Larry (1998). African American films through 1959: a comprehensive, illustrated filmography. McFarland. p. 143. ISBN 0786403071. 
  50. ^ "Incendiary Blonde (advertisement)". Life: 102. September 3, 1945. 
  51. ^ Richards, Larry (1998). African American films through 1959: a comprehensive, illustrated filmography. McFarland. p. 146. ISBN 0786403071. 
  52. ^ "Maurice Rocco Stars Chez Paree Tonight". The Montreal Gazette. August 5, 1952. p. 10. Retrieved July 6, 2013. 
  53. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 565. ISBN 9780195076783.