Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music, 1890-1930

by Don Rayno

Aw, man. I loved this. I was a little miffed on finding that people had been trashing Whiteman’s legacy since the ’40s (on racist grounds) but—well, of course, they have been. That’s the world we live in. I simply came to this music via the Internet Archive and was massively impressed by the artistry and discipline so I got more and more into it, and then stumbled across this 750 page tome describing he first half of Whiteman’s life.

The first 250 pages are narrative and touch on so many great events of American history. Paul’s father was a prominent bandleader in Denver (where Paul would end up being born, and ultimately kicked out of his parents’ home as a way to motivate him!) with schools named after him, and with his students (and Paul’s peers) ultimately joining Paul’s famous band.

And it was huge. Think Beatles-esque fans, only in 1920.

So much fun and the author does a good job touching on all of the conflicting interests that a famous musician encounters without casting good guys or bad guys—though he does take an especial interest in Bix Beiderbecke, the talented, alcoholic cornettist, the death of whom some have tried to laid at Whiteman’s feet. (It’s preposterous and goes with some romantic notion of “having a steady job is murder” that’s popular among non-artists.)

It’s also an englihtening look at the popular music of the time. What people listened to vs. “jazz”, and how Whiteman shaped both in a profound way. Oh, and that little piece he commissioned from Gerswhin…”Rhapsody in Blue”.

Anyway, it’s chock full of great vignettes and staggering financial info, and then “winds down” with 500 pages (!) of itinerary, bibliography, footnotes and indices for the hardcore fan. Carries a hefty pricetag and is not for everyone—at least those last 500 pages won’t be—but well worth it for a student of jazz or the Gilded Age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CAPTCHA ImageChange Image