Paul Whiteman


Born: March 28, 1890 Died: December 29, 1967
Pual Whiteman was enormously popular in the '20s, pioneering the concept of "symphonic jazz" and eventually being tabbed "King of Jazz." That has generated a firestorm of revisionist criticism and equally spirited defense through the years, but jazz in his day only referred to popular, snappy, dance-based fare, not the music of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Whiteman's father was supervisor of school music in Denvery, and while Whiteman was in the local symphony he also was interested in the fresh sound of dance rhythms. He formed a band in San Francisco and an Atlantic City engagement won him a contract with Victor. The band had a smash in 1920 with "Whispering." They used original scores rather than stock arrangements, an innovation courtesy of pianist/composer Ferde Grofe. This helped Whiteman's orchestra became the front-runner among similiar bands; Whiteman expanded into popular concert music and presented his "symphonic concert" in New York in the mid-'20s. A youthful George Gershwin was commissioned to write "Rhapsody In Blue" for the occasion. Whiteman became the most acclaimed, highest paid band leader in the world; he toured Europe in the late '20s, then opted for true jazz musicians by dismissing most of his band and hiring the greatest players from the bankrupt, disbanded Jean Goldkette orchestra. These included Bix Biederbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, and arranger Bill Challis. With a new singer named Bing Crosby creating a stir, Whiteman later featured him in the Whiteman Rhythm Boys trio. He also headlined Jack Teagarden and Bunny Berigan in later editions, and in the late '20s and early '30s had such arrangers as William Grant Still, Lennie Hayton, Challis and Tom Satterfield. Whiteman was an astute judge of talent, and generous employer. As with Benny Goodman, he's been judged guilty for faulty, exaggerated assessments made by others, and not fairly credited for his real contribution; helping create higher performance standards in jazz-based popular music. One of his final dates spotlighted Billie Holiday; though he retired in 1943, Whiteman was heard often on radio and television shows, hosting popular music programs. His huge library of arrangements was given to Williams College. Whiteman has a few reissued sessions available on CD.