Maurice Rocco: Played Standing Up

Maurice Rocco (Rockhold, 1915-1976) was the boogie-woogie piano showman who originated the idea of playing while standing up. He claimed he first did it when a tough guy appropriated his bench in a club, and rather than have to fight him for it, Rocco just remained standing as he played. Whatever the origin, it made for a much more exciting show, and his tactic was adopted by both Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis when rock and roll came along.

From a small town in Ohio, Rocco learned piano from his mother, a music teacher. He first attracted notice from his regular appearances on radio station WLW out of Cincinnati. Noble Sissle helped launch him in an act with the Rogers Sisters called The Three Roccos at the Kit Kat Klub in New York. Rocco played nightclubs, theatres and black vaudeville, occasionally leading his own bands, from the late ’30s. In addition to cutting records, he also appeared in the films 52nd Street (1937); Vogues of 1938; Beat Me, Daddy (1943); Incendiary Blonde (1945); Duffy’s Tavern (1945); and Swingtime Jamboree (1946). In the late ’40s and early ’50s, he got many bookings on television shows like Cavalcade of Stars and The Milton Berle Show. In the late ’50 he found himself on the receiving end of multiple check kiting charges, so he fled to Europe, and finally Bangkok, Thailand, where he worked for 15 years in a hotel bar. Rocco died violently at the hands of an intruder in 1976. He was slain with his own knife.

To learn more about show business, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,