Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman


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Two Kings of Jazz

Joshua Berrett

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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 thejazz 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, The Musical World of J.J. Johnson (co-authored with Louis G. Bourgois), as well as commentary for the Verve Deluxe CD reissue, Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. His articles have been published in Journal of Jazz Studies, The Musical Quarterly, American Music, The Black Perspective in Music, and Musica Oggi, and his research has been cited in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz and The Oxford Companion to Jazz. He is professor of music at Mercy College, where he has developed an Internet-based Distance Learning course in music.

“This happy confluence of critical intelligence and formidable scholarship is especially welcome for its convincing assertion of the importance of the much-maligned and misunderstood Paul Whiteman."—Alfred Appel, Jr. author of Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce

“Berrett deftly juxtaposes the lives of the two Kings of jazz, and by placing their careers in the cultural and social context of the time reveals that they had much more in common than conventional wisdom has held. His book is that rare thing: the history of jazz and popular music viewed from an original perspective.”—Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University; author, Living with Jazz (Pantheon Books)   

"In the 1920s America was musically a dual nation, split down the middle by questions of race. Although real connections between Armstrong and Whiteman are circumstantial at best, the idea of making them joint stars in a dual biography redefines them as cultural bookends, surveying between them all popular music in the years they dominated. Dealing fairly and realistically with both strong-minded characters, Joshua Berrett illustrates usefully, and clearly, the entire American popular music experience of that creative age. He’s done supremely well by both men."—Richard M. Sudhalter, author of Lost Chords and Stardust Melody

Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman sheds invaluable light on the life and work of both Armstrong and Whiteman by the deceptively simple device of discussing the two men together. The result is a major contribution to jazz scholarship—the best thing I’ve ever read about Whiteman, and one of the best about Armstrong.”—Terry Teachout, author of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken and music critic for Commentary

"Berrett's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious.  His gift includes an ability to describe jazz and popular tunes in a way that even a reader who has never heard the music before gets a sense of experiencing it. . . . Both the average reader and the specialist will come away with a profound appreciation for these two artists and their contributions to the American musical scene." —Richard A. Crosby, American Music Teacher 

“Author Berrett . . . does a fine job on both jazzmen, explaining the demise of the Whiteman star and the ascendancy of Armstrong.”—Dave Wood, River Falls Journal

ISBN: 9780300103847
Publication Date: October 11, 2004
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
22 b/w illus.