Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman Two Kings of Jazz Joshua Berrett

Publication date:
11 Oct 2004
Yale University Press
256 pages: 235 x 156mm
22 b-w illus.
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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.

"Two Kings of Jazz 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

“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