Rich Larsen bristles when asked how he acquired his admiration for Al Capone. “We’re not glorifying gangsters,” he says. “We know Capone killed people. Now it’s time to put that on the back burner take a look at something positive he did.”
Larsen is unabashed in his enthusiasm for the notoriously murderous bootlegger’s contributions to the local jazz scene. His documentary Capone’s Treasure of the Heart “focuses on Capone’s love of and contribution to the jazz world.”
That includes helping foster the careers of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole, and saving bassist Milt Hinton from having his hand amputated after an accident, Larsen says.
“If not for Capone, Chicago wouldn’t have become known as the jazz capital of the world that it was,” Larsen says. “It would have a remained sooty meatpacking ghetto.
“One of his biographers refers to him as the gangster without a racist bone in his body. He drew no distinction based on race and religion, and helped advance the careers of these musicians by allowing them to play in his speakeasies.”
Larsen, of RBR Films, along with director Ron Karpman and writer Robert McCrea (The Other Side of Capone), begins production this Sunday on the documentary.
They’ll be filming the first-ever live performance of “Madonna Mia,” the song Capone wrote for his wife Mae — or maybe for the Virgin Mary — while in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary serving an 11-year sentence for tax evasion.
Capone learned to play banjo and read music during his incarceration, before his parole in 1939. Boston documents dealer Kenneth Rendell put the sheet music up for auction for $65,000 in 2009.
Gangster Convention takes place Sunday, Oct. 5
The performance is part of the first annual Chicago Gangster Convention that Larsen is organizing. The documentary crew will be interviewing featured authors, and guests who come in period attire may be invited to perform as extras in a nightclub reenactment scene.
Filming of Capone’s Treasure of the Heart is scheduled to continue through December with the aim of being ready for a broadcast premiere by Valentine’s Day.
The Chicago Gangster Convention is Sunday, Oct. 5, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. and $2.50 of each $27.50 ticket will go to the New Hope Community Food Pantry.