Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz

Product Details

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (October 11, 2004)
Language: English

Review By Bruce W. Marcus “Editor, The Marcus Letter” (Easton, CT USA)
This review is from: Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz (Hardcover)
There are many histories of jazz — some purely factual, some scholarly as well as thoughtful, original, and insightful. Joshua Berrett, for whom jazz is obviously an integral part of life, writes the latter kind of history. His book is informative, intelligent,with knowledge and love of his subject. Mr. Berrett writes beautifully, which I found helpful in absorbing his subject. This book is one of the great and memorable studies of the roots and meaning of jazz. If you have any feeling for jazz, this is the book for you.
Bruce W. Marcus

A dual biography of two great innovators in the history of jazz. One was black, one was white—one is now legendary, the other nearly forgotten.

In Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman the jazz scholar Joshua Berrett offers a provocative revision of the history of early jazz by focusing on two of its most notable practitioners—Whiteman, legendary in his day, and Armstrong, a legend ever since.

Paul Whiteman’s fame was unmatched throughout the twenties. Bix Beiderbecke, Bing Crosby, and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey honed their craft on his bandstand. Celebrated as the “King of Jazz” in 1930 in a Universal Studios feature film, Whiteman’s imperium has declined considerably since. The legend of Louis Armstrong, in contrast, grows ever more lustrous: for decades it has been Armstrong, not Whiteman, who has worn the king’s crown.

This dual biography explores these diverging legacies in the context of race, commerce, and the history of early jazz. Early jazz, Berrett argues, was not a story of black innovators and white usurpers. In this book, a much richer, more complicated story emerges—a story of cross-influences, sidemen, sundry movers and shakers who were all part of a collective experience that transcended the category of race. In the world of early jazz, Berrett contends, kingdoms had no borders.

Joshua Berrett is the author of The Louis Armstrong Companion: Eight Decades of Commentary and co-author of The Musical World of J.J. Johnson. His articles have been published in Journal of Jazz Studies, The Musical Quarterly, American Music and The Black Perspective in Music. He is professor of music at Mercy College.