[Dixielandjazz] Did Whiteman play jazz?-- Review of Don Rayno's biography of Whiteman and his band

Norman Vickers nvickers1 at cox.net
Sun Jan 20 12:47:51 PST 2013


To:  Musicians and Jazzfans list;  DJML

From: Norman Vickers, Jazz Society of Pensacola



There has been a discussion about Paul Whiteman on the Dixieland Jazz
Mailing List.  One of the questions ( or perhaps better said "criticisms")
was whether his group played jazz... or not!


There's an adage in medical research, and it seems that it might also be
applicable here.  It states:

If you've done the work, then get the most mileage possible from it.


Here is a review of a biography of Paul Whiteman by Don Rayno.  Rayno is an
atomic chemist, now in another career.  Interestingly, I spoke with him last
week by telephone.  His second volume has just come out-additional research
on the Paul Whiteman orchestra.  I look forward to receiving the 2nd volume
for review.  So, see the first review and see the number of jazz players who
passed through the orchestra.  See note related to Bix Beiderbecke.  


One of the things which bedevils discussions of this sort is that
participants rarely, if ever, agree on definition of terms.

Some academics says that jazz must contain three elements:  1. Improvisation
( at least in part) 2.  Rhythmic beat-sense of swing 3. Use of the blues


If one agrees to the above, then Whiteman's band played jazz.  That is, in
the same sense that big band swing music played jazz.  Most of it was
arranged with improvisation being limited to instrumental solos being left
to the musician himself.

See the Bix example in the review.


What impressed me about the first volume was the interviews of the
musicians, most of whom have since died.  This was a 20 year process for
Rayno.  He listed personnel and inclusive dates they played for the
organization.  I asked him what he'd hoped to find but didn't.  He said that
because of the organization ( Whiteman had subsidiary bands as well that he
could send out if the premier band wasn't available) , Whiteman had an
accounting firm to keep the books.  Consequently all the records were
discarded except for one surviving payroll sheet.  Seem that Bing Crosby was
second highest paid member of band ( on that sheet) with arranger Ferde
Grofe being highest paid.


So.  Here's the review.  When I finish the second volume, I'll post a review
here, too.  


Book review  by F. Norman Vickers



Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music
Volume I: 1890-1930

By Don Rayno

Studies in Jazz, No 43: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.  Lanham, Maryland and

C 2003, pp 775, Price $49.50


Author Don Rayno has done painstaking research on Paul Whiteman over a
twenty-year period.  This book, first of a projected two-volume set, covers
the period from Whiteman's birth in 1890 to 1930.  His stated purposes are
to interpret Whiteman and his music in the contest of the times and to
provide a more comprehensive examination of the body of Whiteman's music
than has been previous available.


In addition to almost 250 pages of text, there are almost one hundred pages
of explanatory notes, brief biographies of the Whiteman musicians, a
chronology of the Whiteman organization, discography, general index, index
of places performed, index of songs and concert works, and a bibliography.


It is interesting  to note the  number of great jazz musicians who passed
through Whiteman's band.  Most jazz fans know that Bix Beiderbecke played
with Whiteman.  Among others were vocalist Mildred Bailey,
saxophonist/arranger Bill Challis, Bing Crosby, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey,
Eddie Lange and Joe Venuti, Red Nichols, Frank Signorelli, C-melody
saxophonist and Bix friend Frank Trumbauer.


The Bix story is confirmed and expanded about the fact that Bix didn't read
well enough to perform on all the numbers.  His function was mostly to play
the "hot" cornet solos.  The anecdote that has made the rounds among Bix
fans is recounted.  Trumpeter Andy Secrest sat by Bix.  If Bix was unable to
perform, it fell to Secrest.  One of Secrest's music sheets is marked, "Wake
up Bix."


Whiteman's activities were varied.  There were European tours, not without
their difficulties because of labor regulations at the request of the
British Musicians Union for fear of putting their musicians out of work.
Whiteman got around regulations by hiring and equivalent number of Brits.
He had a number of arrangers working regularly for him.  In addition to
Ferde Grofe', there were Bill Challis, Roy Bargy, and the great
African-American composer William Grant Still.


The Whiteman organization had a series of bands which were able to fill
dates that his main band was unable to meet.  No doubt the professional
demands on the leader had an adverse effect on his home life.  We read about
three failed marriages, and a fourth one is hinted at, before the volume
ends.  And Whiteman is only forty.


Two segments of the Whiteman story are treated in detail.  One is the famous
Aeolian Hall concert of 12 February 1924.  This concert was intended to
demonstrate the beauty of American Music.  George Gershwin was commissioned
to write a concert piece for this concert.  Hence, the debut of "Rhapsody in
Blue."  Gershwin almost didn't make his deadline and this put a strain on
Grofe' to write the orchestral arrangements.  This piece became a staple in
the repertoire of the orchestra.  Gershwin moved on to other things and
Whiteman's other pianists assumed that role.  There were vague complaints
during later performances that Whiteman rushed the tempo of that piece, no
doubt to accommodate time constraints of a long program.


Another segment treated in detail is the cross-country trip to Hollywood for
the making of "The King of Jazz" about Whiteman and his orchestra.  Since
the script wasn't ready, the Whitman organization was on salary for three
months with only a weekly radio program sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes.
The band was to return in October 1929 and remain in Hollywood until the
following March for the completion of the King of Jazz movie.


In a telephone interview, the author Don Rayno, a nuclear chemist in the
environmental field and currently in ministerial work, he described his two
decades of work on this book.  It started as a hobby.  Because of his long
involvement in this effort, he was able to locate and interview some of the
principal performers with Whiteman. He indicated that the Whiteman archives
are at Williams College in western Massachusetts.  The archives contain
numerous arrangements and correspondence.  However, he indicated that the
business records, which would be so valuable in research such as this, have
apparently been lost or destroyed.  Whiteman has a series of business
managers. Rayno has also written liner notes for many Whiteman reissues.


In this book, Whiteman appears to be a competent, personable bandleader with
a mission to popularize and make respectable American music-jazz.  He hired
the best musicians available, including some outstanding jazz players and
paid them more than they would make in any comparable organization.  This
book documents the contributions Whiteman made in educating the public about
this unique American musical art form.




This review was originally published in the Escambia Sun Press July 8, 2004






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