Clarinet and alto sax player Leon Roppolo helped pioneer the jazz solo. Born in Lutcher, Louisiana, Roppolo's family moved to New Orleans in 1912. Soon after Roppolo was playing professionally, and at age 15 he joined a vaudeville tour with Bee Palmer the Shimmie Queen. Later, he played with Carlisle Evans on Mississippi River boats, where he reunited with childhood friends Paul Mares and George Brunnies. The three traveled to Chicago in 1921 to join the Friars Society Orchestra, which evolved into the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. For its year-and-a-half existence, the band served as role models for young jazz musicians like Bix Beiderbecke. Upon breaking up in 1924, Mares and Ropollo went to New York and joined Al Siegal's Orchestra. Roppolo recorded with the Original Memphis Five and the California Ramblers, but the recordings have been lost. After a brief stint in Texas with Pecks Bad Boys, Roppolo returned north to play with an Evans riverboat band that took him back to New Orleans. There, he rejoined Mares, who had formed a new version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. In 1925, Roppolo was committed to a mental institution, where he would remain for most of his life. But music never left him, as he continued to play and formed a band within the institution. After being released in the early 1940s, Roppolo played briefly in New Orleans before returning to the institution, where he died in 1943.
Leon Roppolo Biography
by Ron DePasquale