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Paul Whiteman: Ah-Ha!

April 2, 2010

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra in 1921. The band and Whiteman himself grew considerably in the next few years. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
Ah-Ha!

Recorded in 1925

The problem with jazz, Paul Whiteman thought, was that you couldn’t count on it. Sometimes it came out one way, and sometimes it came out another. If you could just write it down, then the band would always play it the same way, and every performance would be as good as the last one.

Whiteman probably absorbed more credit than he deserved for orchestrated jazz, but only because he was happy to accept all the credit, when in fact he only deserved most of it. His domesticated jazz, safely written down so there could be no surprises, was a wild success, and in a short time Whiteman was King of Jazz, and such a big force in American music that he could rope George Gershwin into writing the Rhapsody in Blue for him.

This early electrical recording shows Whiteman’s band in peak form. Not a note is improvised; every break and solo is written down and rehearsed. Nevertheless, Whiteman’s good taste in musicians and general sense of musical fun makes it a pretty hot record.

Whiteman’s attitude to jazz would change a little shortly after this recording; he would begin to hire famous jazz soloists, giving them eight bars or so here and there to improvise a solo. But he never took jazz seriously. “Jazz is the kindergarten,” he wrote in the 1940s. Its purpose was to kindle an interest in music that would lead people to serious classical music. The idea that jazz itself could be serious music never made any sense to him.

Because he steadfastly refused to accept jazz as art, Whiteman provokes a lot of heated rhetoric among jazz writers. I prefer to take his records as they come. This one is good dance music, and it’s funny, and I like to listen to it again and again. If Whiteman’s method produces music like this, then I say well done, Mr. Whiteman.

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From → Hot Dance

2 Comments
  1. Javier Soria permalink

    On this recording, there was a vocal refrain sung by the Revelers with Billy Murray, Lewis James and Wilfred Glenn. There’s another versions of this happy tune recorded by Ted Lewis and Harry Reser and both are acoustical.

  2. Javier Soria permalink

    In fact, Whiteman, Lewis and Reser’s recordings of this song are an stock arrangement of Lee Terry.

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