How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

6
THE KING OF JAZZ

[Paul Whiteman] is directly responsible for the artistic recognition of jazz and for many of
its instrumental methods … however … it is characteristic that he always acknowledges his
esthetic debts. “Somebody had to do it,” he says.

THE NEW YORKER, 1926

In 1936, at the height of the big band era, a slim volume called Secrets of Dance Band Success appeared, with advice for young musicians from a dozen of America’s most popular orchestra leaders. It began with a few encouraging words from Paul Whiteman:

So you want to become a musician. Well, if you really like music better than anything
else, that is sufficient justification to make it a career. The most fun in life comes
from doing what you want to do and getting paid for it. You will find plenty to dis-
courage you, no doubt your parents who will want you to go into something like
law or medicine. Many of our successful musicians today were discouraged by their
parents. I happen to be an exception. My dad put a violin in my hands when I was a
youngster and taught me to play it.1

Whiteman was born in 1890, in Denver, Colorado, where his father was the supervisor of music for the city schools and conducted student productions involving thousands of singers and musicians. (The Denver schools were racially integrated, and the black bandleaders Andy Kirk and Jimmie Lunceford both remembered studying with the elder Whiteman.) At age three Whiteman was being trotted out to perform on a tiny violin for family guests, and by age seventeen he was playing first viola for the Denver Symphony and picking up theater and dance dates on the side. He recalled that he and a friend used to amuse the older symphony musicians by “ragging” the “Poet and Peasant Overture” and other familiar classics.

In 1914, Whiteman moved to San Francisco, which was gearing up for a World’s Fair–style event, the Panama-Pacific Exposition. He wangled a job with the Exposition orchestra, then moved on to a more prestigious position with the San Francisco

-71-

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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amateurs and Executants 13
  • 2 - The Ragtime Life 25
  • 3 - Everybody’s Doin’ It 36
  • 4 - Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now 49
  • 5 - Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers 60
  • 6 - The King of Jazz 71
  • 7 - The Record, the Song, and the Radio 84
  • 8 - Sons of Whiteman 97
  • 9 - Swing That Music 111
  • 10 - Technology and Its DisContents 126
  • 11 - Walking Floors and Jumpin’ Jive 138
  • 12 - Selling the American Ballad 150
  • 13 - Rock the Joint 166
  • 14 - Big Records for Adults 184
  • 15 - Teen Idyll 199
  • 16 - Twisting Girls Change the World 213
  • 17 - Say You Want a Revolution… 230
  • Epilogue - The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram 248
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 291
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