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Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman

Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman
    Book Description:

    InLouis Armstrong and Paul Whitemanthe jazz scholar Joshua Berrett offers a provocative revision of the history of early jazz by focusing on two of its most notable practitioners-Whiteman, legendary in his day, and Armstrong, a legend ever since.Paul Whiteman's fame was unmatched throughout the twenties. Bix Beiderbecke, Bing Crosby, and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey honed their craft on his bandstand. Celebrated as the "King of Jazz" in 1930 in a Universal Studios feature film, Whiteman's imperium has declined considerably since. The legend of Louis Armstrong, in contrast, grows ever more lustrous: for decades it has been Armstrong, not Whiteman, who has worn the king's crown.This dual biography explores these diverging legacies in the context of race, commerce, and the history of early jazz. Early jazz, Berrett argues, was not a story of black innovators and white usurpers. In this book, a much richer, more complicated story emerges-a story of cross-influences, sidemen, sundry movers and shakers who were all part of a collective experience that transcended the category of race. In the world of early jazz, Berrett contends, kingdoms had no borders.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12747-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    What is jazz? By its very nature, the apocryphal answer “If you have to ask, you’ll never know” sows doubt about our ever being able to arrive at a definitive answer. If anything, it implies an attitude of exclusion, “a nice knockdown argument for you,” signifying a certain “glory” for an in-group playing by its own rules. What’s more, perhaps the labeljazzis not to be trusted all that much. In 1969 Duke Ellington, for example, was quoted as saying: “If ‘jazz’ means anything at all, which is questionable, it means the same thing it meant to musicians fifty...

    (pp. 1-36)

    Paul Whiteman’s confession harks back to a time in 1917 when he was adrift in San Francisco, often “blue all day,” frustrated with dead-end symphony work, yet on the cusp of the most dramatic change in his life. He was not long out of Denver, where he had grown up as the son of Wilberforce Whiteman. His father, named after the great English abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759–1833), was a stern man who made no bones about his disgust with Paul’s lack of direction.¹ On his son’s twenty-fourth birthday, March 28, 1914, Wilberforce had served the floundering youth with what...

    (pp. 37-67)

    The paths that brought Whiteman to Atlantic City and Armstrong to Chicago marked the beginning of major developments in each man’s career. Whiteman’s success at Atlantic City’s Ambassador Hotel, coupled with spectacular sales of recordings of “Whispering” (1.8 million copies), “Avalon,” and “Japanese Sandman” for Victor, led to his being hired with his nine-piece band for New York’s Palais Royal dance and supper club. Opening on October 1, 1920, at this elegant locale in midtown Manhattan, he gave the right swing and lilt to the lives of its well-heeled clientele—the Vanderbilts, Drexels, Biddles, Goulds, Lord and Lady Mountbatten. Timing...

    (pp. 68-98)

    TheChicago Defenderof November 14, 1925, left little doubt about what a hot property the city had in its midst. Lil Hardin’s band at the Dreamland was featuring “The World’s Greatest Cornetist, Louis Armstrong.” Armstrong was recently back from his thirteen months in New York with Fletcher Henderson, and Hardin’s ambitions for her husband had never burned more intensely. Just as she had initiated Armstrong’s break with Joe Oliver, so too did she push for his departure from the Henderson band; and that fire was lit when Armstrong had been with the band for barely a month! As early...

    (pp. 99-147)

    King of Jazzwas a landmark, but it also left Whiteman open to charges of turning down the heat of jazz, diluting its African (and African-American) blood. Even more critical, around the time of the movie’s release, changes were already under way challenging the supremacy of the “King of Jazz.” One especially vivid manifestation of such change was a poll conducted in December 1931 by one of the nation’s preeminent black newspapers. ThePittsburgh Courierhad this to say: “Crowned ‘King of Jazz’ last week in the National ‘Most Popular Orchestra’ Contest conducted by thePittsburgh Courier,reigning supreme and...

    (pp. 148-195)

    Sovereign though they were in their respective kingdoms, our two kings of jazz were rulers of domains with open borders. There one could find a free flow of cross-influences, of various sidemen, and sundry movers and shakers who were all part of a collective experience—an experience transcending religion, race, class, and category, with a shared memory of intersecting personal relationships and a common musical repertoire. Much of this memory was shared by a generation that saw a precarious balance between the contingencies of race—one thinks of the pervasiveness of Jim Crow and the terror tactics of the Ku...

  10. 6 OUT CHORUS
    (pp. 196-212)

    Our kings of jazz, each affectionately known as “Pops,” were the twin fathers of American popular music, and their enduring commitment to making their public happy trumped any idea of self-conscious purism in their art. As children of the “Jazz Age,” each of them came into his own during the 1920s, swept up in the headlong rush of modernism as the United States freed itself from the cultural domination of Europe to embody “The American Century” and become an international force in its own right. Even though this characterization of the twentieth century harks back to a 1941 editorial of...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 213-230)
    (pp. 231-238)
    (pp. 239-242)