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Percussionist Bobby Sanabria leads "Dangerous Rhythms" all-star band at Birdland in celebration of T.J. English's new book about jazz and the underworld

T.J. English is celebrating his latest book about organized crime with a celebration at Birdland
T.J. English is celebrating his latest book about organized crime with a celebration at Birdland

T. J. English is an American author and journalist known primarily for his non-fiction books about the Irish mob, organized crime, criminal justice and the American underworld.

His latest book, Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld tells the symbiotic story of a relationship fostered in some of 20th century America’s most notorious vice districts. For the first half of the century mobsters and musicians enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership.

English, a big jazz fan, has also been producing concerts around his book, including three weekend concerts at Birdland (April 14-16). Award-winning percussionist, bandleader and WBGO’s host of “Latin Jazz Cruise” Bobby Sanabria will leading an all-star band there.

T.J. joined WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle to talk about the book and the concerts.

"Birdland came to me and said let's do a book party. And, this was like a dream come to true, you can put a band together and you can hand-select the musicians.

Author T.J. English chats with Journal host Doug Doyle
Doug Doyle/Zoom
Author T.J. English chats with Journal host Doug Doyle

By offering artists like Louis Armstrong, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald a stage, the mob, including major players Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, provided opportunities that would not otherwise have existed.

English says Capone was instrumental in providing opportunities for musicians in his Chicago clubs.

"There was a number of underworld figures who were prominent in the development of early Jazz in cities like Chicago, New Orleans Kansas City and New York. In Chicago it was Capone. He was an aficionado of the music. He was there to hear the music. He had his favorites. He loved Louis Armstrong, everyone loved Louis Armstrong. He loved Earl Hines and Fats Waller."

English says many people ask the question why did African American musicians partner with underworld figures?

"I think part of it was that the owners of the clubs, the way that African American musicians perceived it, was that it provided them protection. These were musicians who were entering into the American marketplace in a way that very few African Americans had at that time as entertainers. And these were clubs were blacks were not allowed as patrons. So, the black musicians were playing in clubs that were patronized by white people. There was a certain amount of danger involved in that for the musicians. So many of them gravitated toward the clubs that were controlled by the mob, believing that would provide them protection.

You can SEE the entire interview with T.J. English here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.