About this Recording
8.120511 - WHITEMAN, Paul: Paul Whiteman and His Dance Band


Whether viewed as a pioneer of the ultra-modern phenomenon "symphonic jazz" or as a purveyor of the latest in popular dance-music, "Pops" Whiteman was nothing if not first and foremost a showman, and if the tag "King of Jazz" was misapplied, a more apt title might have been "King of Show", as research into his various movies (beginning with King of Jazz in 1930, ending with The Fabulous Dorseys in 1947) will bear out. And with the bulk of their recordings pre-dating their appearance in the earlier of those two screen-musical landmarks, the Rhythm Boys were for some years an integral ingredient of the Whiteman Show.

Born in Denver, Colorado on 28th March, 1890, Paul Whiteman was brought up along classical lines. Trained in violin from the age of seven by his violinist and school music supervisor father Wilberforce J., he was already used to the procedures of stage presentation when, at sixteen, he played first viola and violin in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. From 1911 he played in the Minetti String Quartet and from 1915 in the San Francisco People's Orchestra. Paul's earliest exposure to jazz reputedly came a year later at a Barbary Coast dance-hall, and even during World War I the formal "classical" framework continued to be imposed upon him while as a US Navy bandmaster he conducted a 57-piece orchestra at Bear Island, California.

When war was over, however, Whiteman fronted various nine-piece dance-bands at fashionable venues, first in San Francisco, then in Alexandria (where he swiftly became the idol of the movie colony) and finally in Atlantic City where, in 1920, at the Ambassador Hotel, he was already testing his own classically-structured jazz creations. He was "discovered" there by the Victor Records A & R man Calvin G. Childs and the rest, as they say, was history. His first recordings (coupling "Whispering" and "The Japanese Sandman" sold around two million copies by 1922. A seemingly endless stream of hits followed and, from the outset, Whiteman featured high-calibre jazz players who sooner or later achieved star status in their own right - the likes of Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Tang, Frankie Trumbauer, Johnny Mercer, the Dorseys, Hoagy Carmichael and his friend the brilliant Iowa-born cornet virtuoso Leon Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931). Also an accomplished pianist and composer, the redoubtable Beiderbecke's early death contributed in no small measure to his legendary stature. By 1923 a prominent member of the Wolverines, Bix played in Trumbauer's outfit in Chicago from 1925 before joining the Whiteman orchestra in 1927, where he remained until his premature demise from alcohol abuse. Present here on several tracks, he is most prominently heard on “Dardanella” (a 1928 electrical revival of the 1919 Felix Bernard and Johnny S Black instrumental which in 1920 provided a 13-week US No. 1 for Whiteman's rivals, the Ben Selvin Orchestra) and “Changes” (here he complements the Rhythm Boys' vocal).

Already by October 1920 the New York-resident Whiteman orchestra was a fixture at Broadway's prestigious Palais de Dance, their Broadway stints in George White's Scandals (1922 edition) and Ziegfeld's Follies (1923) firmly establishing his name as a showman. Whereas at this stage instrumentalists shone out from the line-up, vocal refrainers in dance-bands were still few and far between. However, the coming of radio and the Charleston Era changed all that and solo crooners - or close harmony and scat ensembles (Crosby and the Rhythm Boys and larger Whiteman vocal ensembles are prime examples) - became fashionable adjuncts to all major dance orchestras, with the vocalists - rather than vocal "stars" - invariably instrumentalists from the band.

Born in Spokane, Washington, on 2nd May, 1903, even as a lad Harry Lillis Crosby displayed strong musical inclinations. Weaned on the records of McCormack and Caruso, jazz also fascinated him and he was a keen drummer at school long before teaming at Washington's Gonzaga University with his fellow law-student (and fellow Spokanian) friend Al Rinker (b. 1907). Intent on a musical career, with an introduction from Rinker's sister Mildred Bailey, Al and Bing were hired as a vocal duo by Whiteman in 1926 and soon afterwards -with pianist-songwriter Harry Barris (1905-1962) - they formed the fashionable and influential Rhythm Boys trio within the Whiteman Orchestra.

Whiteman repertoire of the late 1920s (with and without vocal contributions from Bing, The Rhythm Boys and other - augmented - crooning groups) covered a wide and disparate range. Alongside such ad hoc Barris-Crosby collaborations as “Mississippi Mud” and “From Monday On”, Harry Richman's “Muddy Water” and Ruth Etting's “Wistful And Blue” and such authentic Negro songs as Jessie Deppen's “Oh, Miss Hannah!” and Will Marion Cook's “I'm Coming, Virginia”, we find abroad cross-section of the contemporary fruits of Tin Pan Alley. Some of these, thanks to subsequent jazz arrangements and frequent revivals down the years, still have currency, including (from Broadway shows) “You Took Advantage Of Me” (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart, from Present Anns, 1928), “Ol' Man River” (Jerome Kern, from Show Boat, 1927, heard here in a US No.1 Crosby-Whiteman version), “Makin' Whoopee” (title-song of the 1927 Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson revue Whoopee.!), I'm In Love Again (a Cole Porter number first heard in Greenwich Village Follies Of 1924) and (from pioneering 1929 film­-musicals) “I'm A Dreamer, Aren't We All?” (Ray Henderson: from Sunny Side up) and “Louise” (a Maurice Chevalier signature-tune by Richard A. Whiting first heard in Innocents Of Paris).

Peter Dempsey, 2000

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