Spargo, Tony (originally, Sbarbaro, Antonio)

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Spargo, Tony (originally, Sbarbaro, Antonio)

Spargo, Tony (originally, Sbarbaro, Antonio), early jazz drummer, kazoo player; b. New Orleans, June 27, 1897; d. Forest Hills, N.Y, Oct. 30, 1969. He was on the first jazz recordings as a member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. At 14, he began playing drums with the Frayle Brothers’ Band, then with Ernest Giardina’s Band; he also did parade work in Papa Jack Laine’s Reliance Bands. He continued playing with Giardina until 1915, and then joined Merritt Brunies’s Band at the Tango Place. He also worked with pianist Carl Randall at the Black Cat Cabaret. Spargo left New Orleans in June 1916 to join The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in Chicago. He continued to work under Nick LaRocca until early 1925, then became leader of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band for residency at The Cinderella Ballroom, N.Y. He led the small unit until early 1927, then led an augmented band at Rose Danceland, N.Y, before working with Lacey Young’s Orch. (1927–28). Spargo did a variety of musical work, including another stint leading his own band, then, in 1936, took part in the re-creation of the O.D.J.B. He worked with LaRocca until early 1938, then continued with the O.D.J.B. until 1940. Spargo began playing regularly at Nick’s, N.Y, in 1939, and was featured at N.Y.’s World Fair in 1941. In 1943 he toured in Katherine Dunham’s Revue, then resumed playing at Nick’s. He played in N.Y. with Miff Mole, Big Chief Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Jimmy Lytell, Tony Parenti, Eddie Condon, and pianist Mike Loscalzo, recording with some of them. He was a regular with Phil Napoleon at Nick’s during the early 1950s, and recorded with Connee Boswell in the 1950s. He retired from regular playing in the early 1960s.

Spargo’s early playing contrasts sharply with that of his New Orleans contemporaries, Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton. Spargo’s showy technique and exuberant improvisatory style are rooted in the ragtime playing of such drummers as James Lent, Buddy Gilmore, and John Lucas. His earliest recordings, notably “Indiana,” “Dixie Jazz Band One-Step,” and “Tiger Rag,” belie the idea that the equipment and playing techniques of drummers were always restricted in early recording studios. His cymbal, woodblock, cowbells, snare drum, and bass drum are clearly heard on these tracks.


Original Dixieland Jazz Band: “Indiana,” “Dixie Jazz Band One-Step,” “Tiger Rag” (all 1917); “Crazy Blues” (1921); “Fidgety Feet,” “Original Dixieland One-Step” (both 1936). E. Condon: “Mandy Make up Your Mind” (1943).

—John Chilton , Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter