Jazz Stars: Paul Whiteman
Today, on Paul Whiteman birthday, "Jazz Stars" column is dedicated to the life story of American jazz fiddler and bandleader, the leader of one of the popular dance bands in the United States in the 1920s. The museum Sound Library features new selection of music that the popular musician performs.
Paul Whiteman (full name Paul Samuel Whiteman (March 28, 1890 – December 29, 1967) is often referred to as "the king of jazz".
The son of a famous music teacher, Paul chose to pursue a career in music. Parallel to his studies at regular school, the boy took violin and viola lessons. He planned to continue his father business and perform in some kind of symphony orchestra. Paul originally mastered the viola and as a teenager performed with the symphony orchestra in his hometown Denver. During the First World War, he had already led a naval band, which played marches during the day, entertainment, dancing music in the evenings. After the war he formed the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. In 1920, he moved with his band to New York, where they began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The popularity of these records led to nationwide acclaim.
In his first five recording sessions from August 9 to October 28, 1920, he used the name 'Paul Whiteman and his Ambassador Orchestra', presumably because he played at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City.
From November 3, 1920, he began using the name "Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra".
The popularity of Whiteman and his orchestra was unbelievably high: over a million dollars a year from "live performances", 28 compositions in ten years were recognized as hit songs, the circulation of records grew exponentially. Whiteman was, in every sense, "Number One". Not only did he understand the audience taste, keeping his finger on the pulse, putting together an original concert programme each time, but also he was also sensitive to talent, inviting the best jazz musicians to join the group.
Whiteman proved conclusively that there could be 'white' musicians in jazz! Whiteman also sought African-American musical talents and initially planned to hire black musicians as well, hence finally his managers convinced him that due to racial tensions and segregation in America at the time - such a policy would have been "professional suicide". Yet Paul often disregarded recommendations, hiring black musicians and orchestrators such as Fletcher Henderson for recordings and tours.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it was Whiteman who made jazz more accessible to the public, popularized it, and in the 1920s - 1930s helped turn it into a mainstream music genre.
In 1923, Whitman's orchestra toured in London, and in 1924, it performed at New York's Aeolian Hall in the famous 'An Experiment in Modern Music' concert, where it premiered “Rhapsody in Blue”. George Gershwin, who had written it for Whiteman, performed as soloist with the orchestra.
Whiteman's place in early jazz history is somewhat controversial.
Ill-wishers suggest that his perfectly framed music was jazz in name only, fall short of the improvisational and emotional depth of the genre, and lacking the innovation of black musicians. Apologists point out that Whiteman's love and devotion to jazz was genuine. He worked with black musicians for as long as was possible in the era of racial segregation. The most respected white musicians of the era were in his orchestra, they handled jazz admirably as part of a larger repertoire.
Paul Whiteman's popularity faded into the swing era in the mid-1930s, and by the 1940s, he had almost withdrawn from music. He returned in the 1950s with his own TV show, Paul Whiteman's Goodyear Review, which ran for three seasons on ABC. He was also the host of the 1954 ABC talent contest. He is the author of several books on jazz.
The popularity of Paul Whiteman faded during the swing era in the mid-1930s, and by the 1940s, he had almost withdrawn from music. He only returned in the 1950s with his own TV show, the Paul Whiteman Goodyear Review, which ran for three seasons on ABC. He was also the host of ABC 1954 talent contest. He is the author of several books about jazz.
Paul Whiteman spent the last years of his life in Pennsylvania. He died on December 29, 1967.
- In 2006, the recording of "Ol' Man River" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The song was recorded by the Paul Whiteman and Paul Robeson Orchestra on March 1, 1928 in New York;
- in 1998, Paul Whiteman's 1920 recording of “Whispering” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame;
- in 1974, Paul Whiteman's 1927 recording of "Rhapsody In Blue" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.