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Adrian Rollini -
Artist info
Adrian Rollini

Adrian Rollini

Adrian Rollini

Adrian Francis Rollini (June 28, 1903 - May 15, 1956) was a multi-instrumentalist best known for his Jazz music. He played the saxophone, piano, xylophone, and many other instruments. Rollini was born June 28, 1903 to Ferdinand Rollini and Adele Augenti Rollini (some sources will date 1904, but his brother Arthur, as well as social security records will attest to this earlier date) in New York into a somewhat wealthy family (his father worked for the American Cigarette Co). Read more on
Adrian Francis Rollini (June 28, 1903 - May 15, 1956) was a multi-instrumentalist best known for his Jazz music. He played the saxophone, piano, xylophone, and many other instruments. Rollini was born June 28, 1903 to Ferdinand Rollini and Adele Augenti Rollini (some sources will date 1904, but his brother Arthur, as well as social security records will attest to this earlier date) in New York into a somewhat wealthy family (his father worked for the American Cigarette Co). The eldest of several children, including sister Vera and Arthur (born 13 February 1912) who would later go on to play tenor saxophone with Benny Goodman from 1934 to 1939, and later with Will Bradley. Growing up in Larchmont, he showed musical ability early on, and began to take piano lessons on a miniature piano, at the age of 2.

Before long he had gained "child prodigy" status and was good enough to play for an audience - and he did. He gave a 15 minute Chopin recital at the Waldorf Astoria at the age of four. He continued with music and by age 14 he was leading his own group comprised of neighborhood boys, in which he doubled on piano and xylophone. He gigged around and finally made his break in 1922, when he began to play for the California Ramblers. Originally intended to play piano for them, the manager, Ed Kirkeby (born 10 October 1891) suggested to him that he learn the somewhat cumbersome bass saxophone as a possible tuba double.

It only took him 2 weeks until he began play and recording with it. Over time, he developed a distinctive style. "It swung and it spoke. It had that sense of importance about it, a sense that someone is talking to you and saying something very important." He cut many sides under the California Ramblers and formed two subgroups- The Little Ramblers (starting in 1924) and the Goofus Five (most prominently 1926-1927). Rollini's swing and impetus are quite evident; "Clementine (From New Orleans)", "Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues", and "And Then I Forget" are among some of the best recordings that not only typify the era but showcase the prominence and power that Rollini brought to the table.

During this time, he managed to lay down hundreds of sessions with names like Annette Hanshaw, Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike), Joe Venuti and his Blue Four, The University Six, Miff Mole, and Red Nichols to name a few. Some of his best work would include the Bix sides he cut. 1927 was a landmark year for jazz and Rollini, as not only did he participate in numerous sides, but he also got the job heading up the talent roster for the opening of the Club New Yorker. It was a short-lived organization, a who's-who of 1920s jazz, including Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Frank Signorelli and Frank Trumbauer. Sadly, salary demands began to rise, and the club had its own shortcomings, which proved a bad combination in the end, and the arrangement only lasted for some 3 months. It was not long until other talent would be seeking his name.

From across the pond, a young English band leader by the name of Fred Elizalde was leading a band in London at the Savoy Ballroom, and he was looking for the best American jazzmen to spice up his already hot sound. He found Rollini, as well as Chelsey Quealey, Bobby Davis, Tommy Felline and Jack Russin. They all agreed to join him in 1927 and stayed until September of 1928. This time was interrupted when Adrian received word from the States that his father was in declining health.

Rollini took a ship back to the States to see his father, and to ask his blessing in his marriage to his fiancé, Dixie. His father indeed gave his blessing and the two were married - their voyage to England would serve as their honeymoon in which they also took brother Art back with them over to England (who had to turn down Columbia University to do so). After finishing their stay with Elizalde Rollini and the gang returned to New York, but by the time they got back the California Ramblers had pretty much folded, as raccoon coats, flappers, and everything else that they had come to be so closely connected to had become a thing of the past. He continued to work, recording with such artists as Lee Morse, The Dorsey Brothers, Ben Selvin and Jack Teagarden. The 1930s saw a shift in musical idea- away from the "hot" sound and towards a more centered, polished sound, and Rollini adapted.

In 1932 he formed Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra, and they began to record in 1933, primarily for Vocalion and Banner. While Rollini did manage to assemble some great talent for example Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden, do not expect these records to sound like the Rollini of old- while his beautiful tone and polish is there, you won't find them to be as hot or exciting as the older late '20s cuts. His other groups would include the Adrian Rollini Quintette, The Adrian Rollini Trio (primarily late 1930s) and Adrian and his Tap Room Gang which was based in the Hotel President at 234 West 48th Street in New York City. Adrian Rollini reportedly managed the club inside of the hotel for a short while as well as leading the orchestra. In these recordings, you will notice a gradual shift in Adrian's focus from the bass saxophone to the vibraphone.

This is not so much that Rollini was giving up on the bass saxophone or his abilities - only it is now fading popularity in the big band scene - for example, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw weren't exactly featuring a bass saxophone on the bandstand. Rollini responded, recording on it for the last time in 1938. He continued to be active with vibraphone and chimes, but sadly, when he gave up his role as a bass saxophonist, his role in jazz went with it. He went on to play hotels, as well as arranging and writing songs behind the scenes, collaborating with such names as Vaughan Monroe but he never did any big recording once the big band era really got underway- his trio pretty much represents the last of his great work. After these, he faded from the big scene, appearing here and there.

He can be seen in a 1938 short entitled "For Auild lang Syne" starring James Cagney, as well as "Himber Harmonics" (1938) where he appears with the trio, and "Melody Masters: Swing Style" (1939). He also did a brief tour in the late 1940s in which he came to the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, as well as other cities. Finally, Rollini settled on Florida where he last worked at the Eden Roc Hotel in September 1955, and he also operated the Driftwood Lodge at Tavernier Key. Here was where Rollini would spend his final days. He died May 15, 1956, just shy of 53 years of age.

His exact death is somewhat of a mystery. His brother Art claims he fell down a flight of stairs and met his demise (as Art claimed he was always a bit clumsy). However the British magazine, The Melody Maker, wrote in a May 26, 1956 article that he had been found dead in a blood-splattered car with one of his feet nearly severed (they claim he died in hospital after suffering a heart attack and lung collapse). Others would say he died of pneumonia and complications following a liver ailment, while still others argue that perhaps the mob was in on his fate.

The actual location of Rollini's death was the James Archer Smith Hospital in Homestead, Florida. He died after an 18 day stay in the hospital following a severe trauma to his ankle suffered in the early morning hours (apparently from an auto-related accident)in the parking lot of The Green Turtle Inn at Islamorada Key. This historic Florida Keys restaurant recently closed its doors in late 2004, ending a famous part of history in the middle Keys after almost 60 years of operation. Rollini left his wife of 25 years, Dorothy Rollini a widow; their New York residential address was 17 West 64th Street, New York, N.Y.

After Adrian Rollini's death, the old Driftwood Lodge was destroyed in severe hurricane that pounded the Florida Keys in 1960. Remnants of the Driftwood remained for years, but it all but vanished by the late 1960s. Today, the site of the old Driftwood has been developed into a multi-million dollar private Atlantic waterfront residence. When we, the inheritors of this music look back through the years, we are fortunate to have been left with so much good music by this great man. Sadly and greatly overlooked, Rollini made huge contributions to the jazz world- being one of the first white musicians to record with black musicians, to go one better and invent instruments, as well as being one of the first saxophonists to really swing.

Above all, Adrian Rollini left us with a memorable sound. His playing was inventive, always showing wit and excitement. Upon hearing these records, one immediately hears the joy and pride he took in his craft which transfers positively to the listener, and speaks to us with joy and exuberance. As Tony Watts would say in his 1995 liner notes to the CD, 'Adrian Rollini- Bouncin' in Rhythm,' "Adrian Rollini's music always seemed to have a smile on its face." Listen, won't you? Read more on

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