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Adrian Rollini and the Goofus?

March 18, 2012

Adrian Francis Rollini (June 28, 1903 – May 15, 1956) was a multi-instrumentalist best known for his jazz music. He played the bass saxophone, piano, xylophone, and many other instruments (see below for descriptions of two unusual instruments Rollini played and developed).

Music historian John Cowles recently suggested Brave Combo/Le Not So Hot Klub sax man Jeffrey Barnes reminds him of the lengendary jazz (and classical) musical virtuoso.

We’ll profile Mr. Barnes on another post (their connection first and foremost is their ability to beautifully play the (contra) bass saxophone.)

Rollini was born June 28, 1903 to Ferdinand Rollini and Adele Augenti Rollini. (Some sources will date 1904, but his brother Arthur, as well as social security records will attest to the earlier date.) He was born in New York and was the eldest of several children. (Little brother Arthur played tenor saxophone with Benny Goodman from 1934 to 1939, and was in the famous Carnegy Hall Jazz concert). Growing up in Larchmont, New York, he showed musical ability early on, and began to take piano lessons on a miniature piano, at the age of two. At the age of four, he played a fifteen minute recital at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Among the selections played were Chopin’s Minute Waltz – he was hailed as a child prodigy and was billed as “Professor Adrian Rollini.”
Rollini continued with music and by age 14 he was leading his own group composed of neighborhood boys, in which he doubled on piano and xylophone. His interest in music was far greater then his interest in school, and Rollini left high school in his third year. Adrian also cut several piano rolls for QRS, Aeolian, and DeLuxe – these rolls are quite rare and very few of these have survived. He gigged around and finally made his break when he was 16, and began playing in Arthur Hand’s California Ramblers. Rollini was equally skilled at piano, drums, xylophone, and bass saxophone, which gained him the respect of Hand, who transferred the band to Rollini when he later retired from the music field.

The California Ramblers were one of the most recorded bands of the 1920s. The band also featured Red Nichols, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. The California Ramblers played popular tunes of the day with a Jazz influence.
  • How Rollini came to play the bass saxophone is somewhat of a mystery. Some argue that the Ramblers’ manager, Ed Kirkeby suggested the instrument to Rollini as a possible tuba double. Others say that it was suggested to him by the banjo player, who saw one in a music store. In either case, Adrian, who could tackle just about anything that came his way, would go on to become the star player of the instrument, a true maestro. His brother Arthur recalls in his book “Thirty Years with the Big Bands” that he just came home with it one day and went to work and within two weeks he was recording on it.

Click to enjoy the Saxophone Quartett Les Boréades with Irina Osetskaya – piano Recorded play “Dixie” – 46MCk8ND48w

According to ABrandsma via YouTube, Adrian Rollini composed : Dixie and dedicated it to his wife, who had the name Dixie. The piece Dixie covers the entire “normal” range of the bass saxophone from low Bb till high F. At that early time however, 1928 there was no brand that offered bass saxes with high F, so it means Rollini was playing top tones then.

Hot Fountain Pens

The name of course is just descriptive, you didn’t actually blow across the top of a fountain pen.

The goofus was one of the unusual musical instruments Rollini played (and helped develop) in the 1920's.

Playing the hot fountain pen.

Brian Hills of Spencer’s Nighthawks Orchestra and the Vintage Hot Five explains:
“Enthusiasts of 1920s jazz have surely heard of Adrian Rollini, bass saxophonist with the California Ramblers. He was a child prodigy (a piano concert at the age of four!) and took up the bass saxophone around 1922. His recordings are exceptional, but it is his adoption of novelty instruments, heard on his recordings, that were a mystery to any listener. Try searching for ‘Hot Fountain Pen’ on the Internet, also the ‘Goofus’ – of which there are some pictures but little information.
Rollini came to the UK to work with the Fred Elizalde Orchestra and made some records for Brunswick around 1928. He brought his Hot Fountain Pen and his Goofus with him. In the Melody Maker for 1928/30 we see adverts by the Keith Prowse instrument company – ‘Rollini’s secret out at last!’ with a picture of a Hot Fountain Pen available in the key of ‘Eb’ for seventeen shillings and sixpence, and in ‘C’ for eighteen shillings and ninepence.
The Goofus

Brian Hills writes:

Playing the Goofus.

The ‘Goofus’, a nickname for the ‘Couesnophone’ (pronounced Queenophone) was produced by ‘Couesnon’ instrument makers in France and patented in 1924. It is made of a brass tube one and a half inches in diameter with a tapering curved tube to blow through and a saxophone-like bell purely for looks (it is said that Adrian Rollini discarded the bell). It is a ‘free-reed’  instrument, is polyphonic and has harmonica-style brass reeds. Mine was discovered on Ebay some years ago. I was amazed that I succeeded with the bidding! It has 25 push buttons and a range of two octaves in ‘C’. A modern version is the Hohner ‘Melodica’, also polyphonic, meaning one can play chords, and is much the same principle but the body is made of plastic.

While in that band Rollini, he played in Red Nichols’ Five Pennies and appeared on many of Red’s recording sessions. He also worked with Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra and recorded with Cliff Edwards and Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang. In 1934 he put together some recording sessions that featured Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman.

In London 1928-29 with Fred Elizalde, with intervals back in U.S. with Bert Lown 1930-31, then periods with Leo Reisman and Richard Himber. Freelance recording, mostly leading studio groups of top jazzmen such as Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Manny Klein, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey.

In 1935 established club Adrian’s Tap Room at New York’s Hotel President. Popular spot featured Rollini’s combo augmented by visiting jazzmen. Began concentrating on vibes. On Radio including 1936 work in band on Hit Parade.

Late 1930s led trio in commercial vein. Spotlighted own versitility on many instruments.  Much radio time late 1930s from Times Square spot. Continued into 1950s, mostly with trio. Settled in Florida, occasionally led groups.  Last job at Miami hotel September 1955.  Composed various jazz numbers featured by groups including “Vibrollini”, “Gliding Ghost”, “Preparation”, “Au Revoir”, etc.

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