Carol Tyner rolls up to the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans in a beautifully restored maroon 1948 Mercury. She drives the car to promote the legacy of her father, Dominic James “Nick” LaRocca, a Sicilian-American cornetist, trumpeter and bandleader whose Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first group to record jazz. As far as Tyner is concerned, her father’s not famous enough.
“I had to go out of the country to see my father!” says Tyner, who recently traveled to Sicily to see a bust of Nick LaRocca. “I visited the one in Salaparuta at the music center named after LaRocca. My father wasn’t raised there but his parents were. In Salaparuta he’s considered alongside Louis Prima. Then I went to Palermo and found the street named after him, and then went to the music conservatory there, which has another bust. But then I walk around New Orleans and a lotta people don’t even know who Nick LaRocca is.”
At the Mint — which has served as a museum dedicated to New Orleans history both musical and otherwise since it stopped printing money in 1909 — Tyner would attend the unveiling of the third bust of her father, followed by a panel discussion titled “Marching In: Coming Home to the City Where Jazz Was Born.” Tyner looked forward to gathering with her cousins, her brother Jimmy — who now fronts her father’s band — and members of New Orleans’s large Italian-American community. Dozens of them came out to celebrate the man they believe invented jazz — a man who many in New Orleans’s jazz community consider a musical thief and an unapologetic white supremacist, whose infamy was sealed with a quote in the Ken Burns’s documentary “Jazz”:
“My contention is that the negroes learned to play this rhythm and music from the whites,” LaRocca said. “The negro did not play any kind of music equal to white men at any time.”
Or check out this video that further investigates the controversy: