Romano Mussolini: Guest critic -- The Italian dictator's son discusses his musical up-bringing and gives his take on ''Swing Kids''
My father, Benito Mussolini, was a good musician. It wasn’t his profession, of course. But he played the violin, he could read well, and he loved symphonic music — Puccini, Verdi, Wagner. When I was young, he was very proud that I played the piano. I wish he had lived to come to one of my concerts. My own music is jazz, American music, which I think is the great musical innovation of this century. During the war, I have to tell you, jazz was something larger than music, too — especially to people like myself, young people growing up on this side of the war.
During the war here in Italy, jazz was a symbol of revolution. Progress. Acceptance of racial and social differences. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, ”The Saddest Tale,” ”One O’Clock Jump” — this was music by blacks and whites and Jews and everyone else good enough to play it, music of every emotion, very strong music. It was democratic music. Also, people forget: In those days, it was young people’s music, the music of our generation that we loved even if — maybe because — it was different from our fathers’.
There have been a few movies about jazz — I know, Round Midnight and Bird. But before Swing Kids, no movie ever captured this jazz that I’m talking about. I mean, great music, of course, but also something that was an expression of rebellion for certain young people growing up in a very, very difficult situation. I can tell you: This movie is good.
Now, it takes place in Germany, and it tells you the story of young German men and women under a different government from the one we had. My father was not against jazz. I played Fats Waller records in the house, and he never told me to turn them off. I think he liked them. I can tell you, it was harder for young people in Germany, where they had a much stricter man in charge. The movie is basically accurate when it shows how the young people in Germany couldn’t listen and dance to the music in public. Sometimes, they were punished very hard for it.
The music is quite good in the film, too. There’s not a note of Guy Lombardo. It’s all solid swing by the best bands — Ellington, Goodman. I don’t know if my father would have liked it. But I think young people today should see this. Maybe it will improve their taste in music. A