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Paul Whiteman led the most popular band throughout the 1920’s and was given the moniker, “The King of Jazz,” in 1923, although that title is generally disputed. It must be said, however, that at the time, when the foxtrot was coming into vogue, the dance was equated with jazz, and Whiteman capitalized on it by appending the two words to many of the tunes he recorded. Furthermore, he often hired some of the finest jazz musicians for his orchestra such as Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan, Joe Venuti, and Frank Trumbauer. And Whiteman gave Bing Crosby his start.

Whiteman made his first recording in 1920 and was hugely successful with “Whispering” and “Japanese Sandman.” The appeal of the orchestra was in its fresh instrumentation and its size—nine musicians were unusual for bands of the time. He was forward thinking when it came to the music as well, being the one who introduced both “Body and Soul” and “How Deep Is the Ocean”. Perhaps, most importantly, Whiteman was the first to use and credit arrangers, foremost among them Ferd Grof, who played a work, later to become “Grand Canyon Suite,” commissioned by Whiteman for his wedding ceremony in 1931.

This was not Whiteman’s first commissioned work. In 1924 he presented George Gershwin performing “Rhapsody in Blue” in a landmark concert in New York. Whiteman was also a star of radio and the subject of a film, The King of Jazz (1930). Although his style began to lose favor in the ’30s, he continued to guest conduct, had his own television show, and served as music director of ABC.

-- Sandra Burlingame

Courtesy of JazzStandards.com

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