Paul Whiteman
(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Paul Whiteman (1890), a former violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, who organized a band in 1919 in San Francisco band and moved to New York in 1920, was the epitome of white musicians aping the new genre and trying to cash in on it, mixing pop vocalists such as Bing Crosby (1926) with white virtuoso instrumentalists such as cornet player Bix Beiderbecke (1927), saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer (1927), violinist Joe Venuti (1929), guitarist Eddie Lang (1929), trombonist Jack Teagarden (1933), cornet player Red Nichols, trombonist Tommy Dorsey. Whiteman copied from fellow San Francisco bandleader Art Hickman the idea of adding a saxophone section to the traditional brass section. He also used (from 1919) Hickman's pianist Ferde Grofe to embellish his pop hits: trumpeter Henry Busse's Wang Wang Blues (september 1920), John Schonberger's Whispering (august 1920), that sold over a million copies, irving Berlin's My Mammy (march 1921), Busse's Hot Lips (june 1922), that included a quote from Rachmaninov, Julian Robledo's Three O'Clock In The Morning (august 1922), that sold almost two million copies, Vincent Rose's Linger Awhile (november 1923), Leon Jessel's Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (january 1923), Willard Robison's Peaceful Valley (september 1925). Whiteman was not a complete rip-off, as he commissioned George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (1924), which he premiered with much fanfare (thus legitimizing jazz as a form of highbrow music), the concert made jazz acceptable and credible to the white establishment, and prompted Grofe to compose eclectic pieces that were more reminiscent of classical music than of jazz music in terms of tonal variety and dynamic range (notably the Grand Canyon Suite (april 1932). Whether because he was running out of inspiration or because he felt confident enough to parody his own work, Grofe' began to interpolate classical music in pop tunes. Thus his arrangement of George Gershwin's The Man I Love (may 1928) quoted Wagner and Gus Kahn's Nobody's Sweetheart (october 1929) quoted Stravinsky. As usual with stars that sold millions of records, everything that Whiteman "invented" was considered relevant and everything that he did not invent was considered irrelevant. Whatever (dubious) merits his orchestra had, they were due to Grofe and to the jazz soloists. Despite the very poor average quality of his music, Whiteman's influence was enormous, and not only on white America. For a while, Whiteman (who was as jazz as Al Jolson was black) was marketed to white America as the epitome of jazz music, and therefore ranks as one of the great swindles of the record industry. In reality, he slowed down the progress in jazz music and almost single-handedly destroyed it. Not much of what he recorded, and certainly not Gershwin's (rather mediocre) piece, was worthy of the repertory of so many humble jazz contemporaries.

Whiteman died in 1967.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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