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,
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'
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).