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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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 OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved