Romano Mussolini, 78; Dictator's Son Was Acclaimed Jazz Pianist

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Romano Mussolini, an accomplished jazz pianist and last living child of Italy's World War II dictator Benito Mussolini, has died. He was 78.

The musician and painter had been hospitalized more than two weeks ago for kidney and gall bladder problems and died Friday, according to the website of his daughter's political party. The daughter, Alessandra Mussolini, leads a small right-wing political movement.

Romano Mussolini, one of the dictator's three sons and two daughters, was 17 when he last saw his father in April 1945, 11 days before the dictator was killed.

Jazz music was censored in Italy during Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, but the ban didn't reach the sheltered lives of his family. Romano developed a love for jazz as a child and became one of Italy's early connoisseurs, writing reviews in magazines and teaching himself to play the piano.

Benito Mussolini didn't share his son's passion for jazz, preferring classical music. In recent interviews, Romano recalled with fondness the times when he played classical pieces with his father, an amateur violinist.

Immediately after the war, however, Romano Mussolini and his mother and a sister were exiled to the island of Ischia. For more than a decade he was afraid to appear in public because the family name aroused too many mixed emotions.

He worked odd jobs in the lumber and construction businesses until an editor of Musica Jazz magazine talked him into participating in a jazz festival in San Remo in 1956. His appearance led to a recording contract that year with Italian RCA. Gradually, he developed a reputation as a confident musician who performed in the style of Oscar Peterson.

His 1963 "Jazz Allo Studio 7" record was acclaimed by critics, and international tours brought him in contact with Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.

He was "a personality that has contributed, in far away and difficult years, to spread and popularize in Italy the extraordinary artistic strength of jazz," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said.

Mussolini refrained from discussing his father's legacy until 2004, when he published a book titled "My Father Il Duce," depicting him as a caring father who loved music and cried at the wedding of his first-born daughter. The book sparked new debate in Italy about the true legacy of the infamous leader.

Romano Mussolini is survived by his wife, Carla Maria Puccini, and three daughters: Alessandra, Elisabetta and Rachele. The first two are the daughters of his first wife, Anna Maria Scicolone, the sister of actress Sophia Loren.

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