10 Things You Should Know About Paul Whiteman

Here are 10 things you should know about Paul Whiteman, born 129 years ago today. Known as the King of Jazz during his heyday, Whiteman isn’t afforded that level of respect by many today, but his influence is undeniable. His music may have leaned to the pop side, but in that era, jazz was dance music, so it was pop, in a sense, and Whiteman helped to bring the new sounds to a wider audience.

The King of Jazz Returns

The musical was a popular genre in the very early days of talkies, but the moviegoing public quickly (if briefly) lost interest in singing pictures.

One movie that fell victim to that disinterest was King of Jazz (1930), a lavish musical-comedy revue that featured Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra delivering an assortment of musical numbers with comedic sketches interspersed throughout.

King of Jazz, made for Universal Pictures, was filmed entirely in an early, two-color version of Technicolor and featured actors and performers such as the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris, don’t you know), John Boles, Laura La Plante, Slim Summerville, Walter Brennan, jazz legends Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, and the Russell Markert Dancers (who would soon become the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes).

King of Jazz was not a money-maker, and a revamped version released a few years later did no better, so it might well have fallen into obscurity and been forgotten, but over the decades, interest in the film increased. In 2013, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, and in 2018, a spectacular restoration of the film was screened in a few locations across the country and around the world.

We were present for the restoration’s premiere in New York City, and it proved to be a terribly exciting event. The buzz in the theatre was palpable and the film, which had been beautifully restored, received cheers from the packed house throughout the screening.

We’re pleased to share the exciting news that Turner Classic Movies is airing this acclaimed restoration on Monday, March 4, at 8 p.m. ET. If you listen to Cladrite Radio with any regularity, this one’s right up your alley. We’re calling it a don’t-miss.

To give you an idea what to expect, here’s a clip from the film of a performance of George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue.

Happy 126th Birthday, Paul Whiteman!

Today marks the 126th birthday of orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. Known as the King of Jazz during his heyday, Whiteman isn’t afforded that level of respect by many in the jazz community today, but his influence is undeniable. His music may have leaned to the pop side a little bit, but in that era, jazz was dance music. It was pop, in a sense, and Whiteman helped to bring the new sounds to a wider audience.

What’s more, the list of immortals who played or sang with Whiteman during his career is a lengthy one, among them Bing Crosby (who during his time with Whiteman was one of the hippest of vocalists), Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan, and Ramona Davies (she of the Grand Piano)—names that are very familiar to anyone who listens to Cladrite Radio reguarly.

Whiteman also commissioned George Gershwin to write Rhapsody in Blue, and that influential work’s 1924 debut was performed by an expanded version of Whiteman’s orchestra, with Gershwin himself at the piano.

Whiteman also performed in motion pictures, and it was announced earlier today that the restoration of his own starring vehicle, King of Jazz (1930), is now complete. It will be unveiled in screenings in various spots around the country beginning in May.

No less an authority than Duke Ellington once declared, “Paul Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz, and no one as yet has come near carrying that title with more certainty and dignity,” and that’s good enough for us.

Happy birthday, Pops. We can’t wait to see a pristine new print of your movie in May!

Paul Whiteman

Times Square Tintypes: Paul Whiteman

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles rotund orchestra leader and the King of Jazz (or so he was once known), Paul Whiteman.
 

A LEADER AMONG MEN

PAUL WHITEMAN. Let the most important fact come first. He weighs 248 pounds.
Caricature of Paul WhitemanHe once studied to be a mechanical engineer.
He has a passion for striped ties and flashy autos.
Was born in Denver, March 28, 1890. His father and mother were both six feet tall. His father was director of musical education in the city schools. His mother sang in the choir.
Once he enlisted in the navy. Then he organized a naval jazz band.
His prize possession is a photograph of himself at the age of three. Here he is seen wearing green velvet pants and playing a toy violin.
He can lead an orchestra by merely shrugging his shoulders or moving his thumbs.
Was a viola player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra and drove a taxi on the side to make money.
Custard is his favorite dessert. He calls it “gap and swallow.”
The Prince of Wales is his pal.
He is married to Vanda Hoff, dancer. They have a son, Paul Whiteman, Junior.
One of his first jobs in a jazz band was in a honky-tonk in San Francisco. Here the folks threw coins in a barrel if they liked you. These coins were your salary.
He plays golf and has one friend he can beat.
Will pay any price for a musician he desires. Often takes men getting only $60 a week away from another band by paying them $250 a week.
Made his New York d&eacutebut at the Palais Royal.
The first place he heard jazz was at Capper’s Neptune Palace in Africa.
Has a remarkable memory, never forgetting the smallest detail. Commenting on this trait, a wisecracker gagged: “Oh, well, an elephant never forgets.”
Never passes a street musician without slipping him a bill.
Whenever he attends the opera he cries. His favorite opera is Parsifal.
For relaxation he will sit before a victrola listening to records of his band playing.
Eats very little for one of his size. Some of his choice dishes are chicken and cream served at the Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis; hot cakes, doughnuts and strawberry shortcake at his relatives’ in Denver; wienerwurst and sauerkraut at Joe’s in Minneapolis and antipasto at Sardi’s.
The first record he ever made was “Avalon.” It was spoiled in repeated trials by the audible soft oaths of players cursing their own mistakes.
The first of the Whitemans spelled it Wightman.
He wears pink nightgowns that fall to his ankles and a tassled night cap.

Read More »