Rollo Laylan's home environment went from crisply cold to humidly hot during his lifetime; as they would say in his birthplace of Genoa, Wisconsin: "Don't ya' know?" He ended up working at a Radio Shack in Florida, retired from a career of classic jazz drumming that seems to have both inspired and infuriated listeners and fellow musicians. On one hand -- and hands are indeed the subject here -- Laylan was an example of a man who rose to the challenge of a physical handicap, inspiring many with his efforts. Laylan had suffered from polio as a child, leaving him with a crippled hand that would have been of more use for paddling than it was for drumming. He became enough of an accomplished drummer to join the Paul Whiteman group, which is where many fans of historic jazz first hear Laylan.
Negative scuttlebutt is easy to turn up as well on the drummer, who is featured on at least 50 records between the late '30s and the early '60s. He acquired the nickname of "Preacher," which he put to serious promotional use while leading his own ensemble, Preacher Rollo and the Saints. Perhaps the worst side of this artist came out when he was taking on the responsibilities of bandleader. At any rate, his activities in Miami with this group are the subject of gossip in Dixieland jazz chat rooms: "Almost everyone had something bad to say about Preacher," is the summation of one ex-sideman. A Miami jazz fan simply calls the drummer "a martinet." While it is not established without a doubt that Laylan has died, some of the musicians who worked with him relish the thought of a definite confirmation, simply for their own peace of mind.
Some say the drummer used to claim having invented radar and sonar. While this is probably not true, Laylan's intellectual capacity extended to other areas than the music he was known for playing. He studied classical composers, including the modernistic Béla Bartók. Laylan edited a book on the Gene Krupa drum method which was published by the Robbins Music Corporation in 1938. He began playing drums in a family band led by his mother, a pianist. After establishing himself on the Madison scene, Laylan went national with the Bunny Berigan band, staying only briefly. In the spring of 1938 the drummer began three years with Whiteman, followed by collaborations with pianist Art Hodes and reedman Joe Marsala. Again despite his handicap, Laylan served in the U.S. Air Force during the second World War.
Having enjoyed a Florida hiatus with bandleader Emery Deutsch in the earlier part of the decade, Laylan returned to the Sunshine State when the war was over. At first he worked with Ray McKinley, but soon he was launching his own group, the previously mentioned Preacher Rollo and the Saints, who worked steadily between 1951 and 1965. In the later years the drummer also gigged with the fine pianist Don Ewell. Laylan left music full-time in the late '60s.