LOUIS ARMSTRONG & PAUL WHITEMAN: Two Kings of Jazz

Joshua Berrett, Author . Yale Univ. $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-300-10384-7

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. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 257 pages - 978-0-300-12747-8
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