Frank Assunto

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The Italian community in New Orleans has been the source of many active musicians, and the name of the Assunto family will inevitably arise from any tally. Amongst the siblings of trumpeter Frank Assunto…
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The Italian community in New Orleans has been the source of many active musicians, and the name of the Assunto family will inevitably arise from any tally. Amongst the siblings of trumpeter Frank Assunto were a pair of sisters who shined on piano and woodwinds, and brother trombonist Fred Assunto; all grew up studying with their father, banjoist Jacob "Papa Jac" Assunto. It was the pair of brothers who made the most racket on the New Orleans scene, founding a group called the Dukes of Dixieland in 1949. This band, which would eventually become something of an institution, began as a casual one-off for a talent show organized by producer and bandleader Horace Heidt. He appreciated the Assunto assembly enough to take them on tour, and when the Dukes of Dixieland docked back in New Orleans, the group wound up practically taking over the Famous Door club.

This style of jazz -- a kind of Dixieland revival minus the rhythmic anarchy of the '20s -- began to peak in popularity in the '50s, taking the Assunto brothers' group to a pinnacle of national popularity. The Dukes of Dixieland toured clubs as well as releasing a string of albums and performing on television variety shows. When the group recorded the first jazz album in stereo in 1958, listeners had the unique perspective of hearing one brother on the left channel, the other on the right.

The trumpeter's style is of course heavily indebted to Louis Armstrong, whether in mono, stereo, or quadrophonic. But Assunto also seems to like the somewhat leaner tone of Bunny Berigan as well as the brighter, flashier approach of Bobby Hackett. Showmanship was also a large part of the Dukes of Dixieland's appeal, the Assunto brothers pretty much the opposite of the type of jazzmen who play with their backs to the audience. Frank Assunto also performed vocal duties with the group. He has on a few occasions been credited with the authorship of the standard "St. James Infirmary." If everyone that has been listed as author of this song in some 500 recorded versions ever battled it out, the body count would no doubt be much higher than even a complete version of the song itself.