Dangerous Rhythms tells the symbiotic story of jazz and the underworld: a relationship fostered in some of 20th century America’s most notorious vice districts, where the mobster-owned clubs determined who played and who got paid. For the first half of the century mobsters and musicians enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership by offering artists like Louis Armstrong, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald a prominent stage. The mob, including major players Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, provided opportunities that would not otherwise have existed. The resulting racial diversity of the clubs and speakeasies paved the way for some of America’s greatest artists to find their voice.
Even so, at the heart of this relationship was a festering racial inequity. The musicians were mostly African American, and the clubs were owned by white men. It was a glorified plantation system that, over time, would find itself out of tune with an emerging Civil Rights movement.
Through English’s detailed research and firsthand accounts from jazz veterans, Dangerous Rhythms reveals this fascinating slice of American history in all its sordid glory.