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ClassicsOnline Home » WHITEMAN, Paul: A Pops Concert (1927-1929)
PAUL WHITEMAN and his
A "Pops" Concert Original 19271929 recordings
Paul Whiteman was born in Denver, Colorado, on 28th March, 1890, into an affluent middle-class background. His formative musical training reflected the classical inclinations of his father, Wilberforce Whiteman, a noted violinist and Musical Supervisor to the Denver Education Committee who in his spare time promoted high-school youth orchestras. From 1907 Paul was first viola (and, on occasions, second violin) with the Denver Symphony Orchestra and, from 1911, violist with the Minetti Quartet. By 1915 he was playing in the San Francisco Peoples Orchestra and his first impressions of ethnic black jazz, heard in Barbary Coast dance-halls, date from that time. During World War I he served in the US Navy and led a 57-piece band stationed at Bear Island, in California and after the war fronted various nine-piece groups in fashionable, up-market white hotels, first in San Francisco and Los Angeles and later, more significantly, at the Ambassador in Atlantic City, the birthplace of his earliest "symphonic jazz" creations.
Affectionately known by his intimates as Pops, the colourful heavyweight Whiteman was the archetypal "all-white" master-showman and King of Fixers. During the early 1920s he became the leading sophisticator of jazz and promoter of all things pop and already, by 1927, had for several years been experimenting in this new style with his resident pianist-arranger Ferde Grofé (1892-1972). Viewed from front-of-house, what this amounted to was classically-scored orchestrations of the up-tempo dance hits played by men in evening dress; but in Whitemans hands these latest tunes were transformed into "classics in jazz attire". With its rare combination of raw jazz metal and elite sophistication, Whitemans was never simply another bourgeois sweet white dance orchestra cashing in on the black mans music; nor, indeed, when he started out in earnest, was his quite the first white outfit to exploit the potentialities of jazz on a large scale (the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and, albeit less obviously, Ben Selvin were just ahead of him).
Unashamedly pretentious, by 1920 Grofés novel and catchy "jazz" arrangements of more serious music had caught the attention of the Victor Companys A & R manager Calvin G. Child and secured a first recording contact for Whitemans New York-based orchestra which, by October of that year, was a virtual fixture at Broadways prestigious Palais de Dance. The orchestras début in the 1922 edition of George Whites Scandals led to a top billing the next year in Ziegfelds Follies and guest appearances at the London Hippodrome. Furthermore, the New York première of Gershwins "Rhapsody In Blue" in 1924 established the new "symphonic jazz" style and won Whiteman unequivocal international recognition. By the late 1920s the Whiteman Orchestra had become a staple of coast-to-coast radio and a household synonym for a sophisticated, high-quality alchemy through which classics were made palatable to the unversed and jazz was sanitised for a large "respectable" white audience.
Whitemans symphonically contrived recordings of dance tunes and jazzings of semi-classics in their day revolutionised popular music and for more than a decade-and-a-half his eagerly-awaited new titles realised astronomical sales. Anchored commercially by the success of "Whispering" and "Japanese Sandman"(the first of more than 30 US No.1s charted between 1920 and 1936, this coupling sold over two million copies world-wide by 1922 and made his name), Whiteman cast his arranging net upon a wider sea of music by composers both dead and living, notwithstanding a clash with the classics ensuing from "Avalon", an Al Jolson-Vincent Rose concoction which, based on the opening of a well-known tune from Tosca, provoked a famous test plagiarism lawsuit from Puccinis publishers, Ricordi & Co., in 1923.
Whiteman and Grofé proceeded to apply their tried symphonic treatment to an even broader gamut of material. Not excluding various 19th century ballads and gems of the salon ("Andantino", originally a solo for organ by the Isle of Wight-born American Edwin Henry Lemare (1865-1934) which by 1925, thanks to Neil Moret, had become known as Moonlight And Roses and the Hispanic folksongs La golondrina and La paloma fall loosely into this category) its range extended to transatlantic Tin Pan Alley best-sellers. These included his two No.1s Among My Souvenirs (1927 by Horatio Nicholls, the "Edgar Wallace of Songwriters", aka British music-publisher and promoter Lawrence Wright (1888-1964) with lyrics by the American Edgar Leslie, 1885-1966) and Together (1928 by the New York-based team of B.G. Buddy de Sylva (1895-1950), Lew Brown (1893-1958) and Ray Henderson, 1896-1970). Similarly, and treated with much the same abandon as tunes from the classics ("Song of India" by Rimsky-Korsakov and "Tchaikovskiana", for instance) comes Southern Medley (Crosby vocalises in a potpourri which includes by Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) "Old Folks At Home" (1851), "My Old Kentucky Home" (1853) and "Old Black Joe (1860) and by James A. Bland (1854-1911) "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny", 1878).
However, in any typical Whiteman Pops concert, real or imagined, better-than-average, symphonised arrangements of jazz and resurrected vaudeville and dance standards would surely have predominated, with Ernie Burnett & George A. Nortons My Melancholy Baby (1912) and Marsh McCurdy & J. Keirn Brennans High Water (1923) coupled with Hoagy Carmichael & Fred B. Callaghans Washboard Blues (1926) or with up-to-the-minute Gershwin or Richard Rodgers show numbers easy companions to Nat Shilkret & L. Wolfe Gilberts Jeannine (originally a "sound effect" from the 1928 First National film Lilac Time, aka Love Never Dies) or Neil Moret & Gus Kahns Chloe (1927).
Peter Dempsey, 2002
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WHITEMAN, Paul: A Pops Concert (1927-1929)