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Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz Hardcover – October 11, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Paul Whiteman and Louis Armstrong were both hugely popular performers in their day, but while Armstrong is still considered the king of jazz, Whiteman (feted as the "King of Jazz" in a 1930 movie) is now relatively unknown. In this slim but dense "dual biography," Berrett (The Louis Armstrong Companion) attempts to explain why Whiteman has been forgotten and why that is a mistake. History separated the two: Whiteman into staid, "symphonic" jazz and Armstrong into the wilder, "hot" jazz. Considering these two lives in the context of the early jazz milieu as well as the larger world, Berrett demonstrates that these two fathers of jazz (one white, one black) were more complex than this division allows. Berrett paints the world of early jazz as influenced by contemporary racial and social prejudices, but not defined by them: these two kings were "rulers of domains with open borders." The image he paints of Armstrong is familiar—the avuncular genius, the first great jazz soloist—but one never gets a clear view of Whiteman's gifts as a violinist or bandleader; readers may find themselves more impressed by his genius for self-promotion and his ability to judge talent (Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke and Bing Crosby were all in his band). Despite Berrett's admirable efforts, Whiteman will remain in Armstrong's shadow.
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From Booklist

In the 1920s, bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) was known worldwide as the king of jazz. By the middle 1940s, however, his career was essentially over. He had aimed to "make a lady" of jazz, giving it symphonic gloss with string sections and commissions from popular composers (the most famous of those: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue). Well before his star set, he was bad-mouthed as a white man getting rich watering down black music. Emerging slightly after Whiteman, trumpeter Louis Armstrong (1901-71) became the first jazz superstar, whose status as the genuine king of jazz outlived him. Berrett treats the two in parallel, showing that they knew and admired one another from very early on and arguing that together they forged the jazz mainstream by establishing the core of jazz standards and the basic approaches to playing them. Moreover, despite not hiring black musicians, Whiteman put himself on the line for Armstrong and other black musicians when it counted. No jazz lover should miss this generous, mind-expanding book. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300103840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300103847
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,026,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By jive rhapsodist on February 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hey, look, I'm for the Post-Canonical approach to criticism and history as much as the next guy...MORE than the next guy. But this book is over the top. It is certainly well researched. But all of its scholarship only serves to conflate and confuse Cultural History and Musical History...not to speak of the beating it gives to poor Aesthetics. It talks about "relegating Whiteman to the position of a marginal figure". Well, Joshua, in terms of Cultural History, Whiteman is not a marginal figure. But musically he is!!! I'm sorry, but that's true!!! Bix is amazing and a genius, Challis' arrangements are incredible, even if often really, really dated. Trumbauer is certainly worth studying and and listening to, even if he's ultimately quite disappointing. Some of the things Whiteman commissioned (besides Rhapsody in Blue) are interesting and worth knowing. But none of this comes close to making a case for studying Whiteman as a parallel figure to Armstrong! Armstrong's MUSIC requires patience. I don't think it necessarily reveals itself IMMEDIATELY to the modern listener. But still!!! Once you get it, it requires no special pleading, no historical excuses. And this is just not not true of Whiteman. Some of the records are really special, and I do appreciate Berrett's analysis of the famous recording of Washboard Blues. There are a few of these moments, both in the book and in Whiteman's career, and certainly there needs to be recognition of such moments. Gunther Schuller certainly went a long way in his writings on Whiteman in his book Early Jazz. And I also agree that Armstrong's career situates itself within the general history of American Popular Music, and not in some rarefied realm of Afro - American Demotic Art Music. And that the more writing that explores that, the better.Read more ›
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Banjo Bernie on February 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Louis Armstrong & Paul Whiteman: Two Kings Of Jazz" is a carefully researched and artfully reported description of the lives and careers of two 20th Century music legends whose public stories are well-known. Here, as he presents the parallel histories of Satchmo and Whiteman, Prof. Berrett reports and analyzes some of the less-familiar private incidents and events that color their personal stories. Everything reported here, however juicy and including some less-than-respectable anecdotes, is well-documented and authenticated with comprehensive notes.

Did you know, for example, that Bing Crosby's recording of "Star Dust," widely believed to be backed by the Whiteman Orchestra, was recorded on 19 August 1931 at a point where he was no longer with Whiteman? Crosby had left Whiteman and the orchestra about 16 months earlier following mounting tensions between them. Berrett documents several reasons for the rupture, all of them touching on Crosby's alcoholism. For one thing, it was said that Crosby owed a bootlegger money for a quart of "day-old pop-skull" and Whiteman, having to foot the bill, deducted the amount from Crosby's salary. There were allegations that Whiteman humiliated Crosby in front of the band, accusing Crosby of stealing Whiteman's own liquor. No wonder Crosby quit!

Did you know, for example, that Satchmo recorded "Rockin' Chair" 29 times between 1929 and 1971, most frequently with his . . . "gin-swilling partner in musical crime and favorite male vocal foil. . ." trombonist Jack Teagarden. Teagarden, Berrett reminds us, was a vibrant presence, a ready mix of music and high spirits, who was also significant to the career of Paul Whiteman between 1933 and 1938.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce W. Marcus on April 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There are many histories of jazz -- some purely factual, some scholarly as well as thoughtful, original, and insightful. Joshua Berrett, for whom jazz is obviously an integral part of life, writes the latter kind of history. His book is informative, intelligent,with knowledge and love of his subject. Mr. Berrett writes beautifully, which I found helpful in absorbing his subject. This book is one of the great and memorable studies of the roots and meaning of jazz. If you have any feeling for jazz, this is the book for you.

Bruce W. Marcus
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