POPS: Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz by Thomas A. DeLong

POPS: Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz

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For nearly forty years he was the unparalleled catalyst for music makers, an unsurpassed impresario of mass entertainment, a Pied Piper larger than life."" So begins--after a preview of the famous 1924 Aeolian Hall concert--this industrious, rather lifeless biography of conductor/arranger Whiteman. Born in Denver, with a demanding teacher/father, Paul--fat and balding ever since typhoid fever in childhood--was ""aimless"" until his mid-20s, when he worked on his viola playing, got a symphony job in San Francisco, and heard a lot of jazz: the first-ever written, jazz-band orchestrations were the result. Soon he had his own band, as conductor/violinist, with orchestration help from Ferde GrofÉ: tours, records, and Broadway (with Gershwin) followed--leading to that landmark 1924 concert, featuring Rhapsody in Blue. So, thereafter, Whiteman ""assumed the mantle of spokesman for popular music, the foremost authority on jazz""--though DeLong acknowledges that he was ""the agent rather than the initator,"" a proponent of ""quasi jazz"" rather than the improvised real thing. Through the decades, then, DeLong records all the concerts, tours, radio-shows, film appearances, personnel changes in the band, and famous collaborations--with the young Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey, Bix Beiderbecke (""a second son to Whiteman during his three erratic years on the bandstand""), and others. Whiteman's so-so attempts to keep up musically are noted, as are his searches for young composers, his branchings-out into disc-jockeying, radio-programming, and television. And there are occasional mentions of his drinking problem, his weight problem, his long second marriage, and his problematic children. In sum: quite superficial on both the man and the music--but exhaustively researched and thickly detailed, with more reference-value than readability.

Pub Date: Dec. 19th, 1983
Publisher: New Century