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Dismuke's Hit Of The Week
Previous Selections
April 2003

April 24, 2003

This week's Hit of the Week is brought to you by

Click On Image For Larger View
(from 1927 ad)

1929 Columbia record label with Paul Whiteman Potato Head caricature

During the 1920s, Paul Whiteman was the biggest name in popular music.  He was billed as "The King of Jazz" during the very  era that later became known as "The Jazz Age."  While music critics tend to scoff at his jazz king title on grounds that he was mostly a purveyor of commercial popular music and not "real" jazz,  Whiteman was one of the early pioneers who helped make jazz socially acceptable by introducing jazz elements into  popular dance music.  But Whiteman's musical career outlasted the Roaring Twenties decade that he musically helped define.  I thought it might be interesting to put together an update featuring recordings from different periods of Whiteman's long career as a bandleader.

Sittin' In The Corner - 1923 Sheet Music Click On Image For Larger View
 Click On Image For Larger View

Sittin' In A CornerClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra             1923
(Victor 19161-A)

This pretty George Meyer composition was very popular in 1923.  The recording predates the introduction of electrical recording technology by about two years.  Nevertheless,  I think it has a rather nice sound to it and is an example of the level of quality that was often achieved during the final years of acoustical recording.

By the time this recording was made, Whiteman had been America's most famous bandleader since late 1920 when his very first record made him an overnight success.  The record featured the song "Whispering" and sold over a million copies.  In 1923,  the band's fame spread to both sides of the Atlantic when it embarked on a very successful 5 month engagement in London.  While in England,  Whiteman became friends with the Prince of Wales.  In  February 1924,  Whiteman held his famous "An Experiment In Modern Music" concert at Aeolian Hall in New York in which the band introduced a now classic work that Whiteman commissioned specifically  for the program: George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.   In the decades that followed, Rhapsody was the Whiteman band's theme song at public appearances and on radio.

From Monday OnClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
Bing Crosby, vocal                                       1928
(Victor 21274-A  mx 41689)

On this recording, two legendary performers stand out: vocalist Bing Crosby and Bix Beiderbecke, whose cornet playing can be heard in the opening passages.  At the time, both were relatively unknown rank and file Whiteman employees.  Four years later, Crosby struck out on his own as a soloist and became a major Hollywood star.  Beiderbecke was not so fortunate.  By late 1929, he was unable to continue working with the Whiteman band due to ill health brought on by heavy drinking and  hard living.  He died in 1931 at the age of 28.  During his life, Beiderbecke's work was well known and admired by his fellow jazz musicians - but it wasn't until after his death that his fame began to spread.

This recording was made February 28, 1928.   A few months earlier, Whiteman announced his decision not to renew his recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company . Instead, he chose to sign up with rival Columbia.  Knowing it was losing its top star, Victor made the most of the time remaining on Whiteman's contract and ordered the band into the recording studio.  Almost 60 sides - including this selection - were made in the three months prior to the April expiration of Whiteman's contract.

The late 1920s marked the high point for the Whiteman band in terms of both financial success and the quality of its output.   Many of the band's recordings from this period featured  lush, almost orchestral arrangements mixed with an upbeat syncopation and "hot" solos performed by some of the top white jazz musicians of the day.   Whiteman's name for this style of music was "Symphonic Jazz." In 1928, the Whiteman organization had over 30 musicians on staff - and they were the highest paid of any band in the country.   As was the case for many Americans, it seemed as if the prosperity and giddily  good times would never end.  In October, 1929, the Whiteman band left for Hollywood for what appeared to be yet another triumph: a major  musical  motion picture The King of Jazz centered around Whiteman and the band.   A $2 million Technicolor extravaganza, it was the most expensive film ever made up to that time and was only the second ever all-talking, all-color full length picture.  Also included in the film was the first color cartoon.   At the end of that same month, however, the stock market crashed and soon the entire country would be plunged into the Great Depression.

A White House Of Our OwnClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
Jack Fulton, vocal                                        1933
(Victor 24236-B)

By the time this recording was made in early 1933, the Whiteman band had  largely dropped its Jazz Age era syncopation and jazz solos in favor of a more sedate, mellow sound. 

The early 1930s were difficult for Whiteman.  The King of Jazz, which was completed in March 1930, did not fare well at the box office.  As the effects of the Depression spread, bookings for the band dried up.   So did record sales as people chose to save their money and listen to the "free" music available on radio.  To make matters worse,  Old Gold cigarettes dropped its sponsorship of Whiteman's lucrative radio program.   Whiteman was forced to slash the size of his organization by over 30 percent and imposed significant pay cuts on those who remained.  To survive, the band took on whatever bookings it could find - including the sort of exhausting road trips of one night engagements that previously would not have even been considered.  Eventually, Whiteman's fortunes began to improve with a long term booking at Chicago's Edgewater Hotel followed by another at New York's Biltmore Hotel.  Ultimately, however, it was through landing coast to coast network radio programs that Whiteman was able to reestablish himself as one of the top bandleaders in the country.

Jeepers CreepersClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Paul Whiteman and His Swing Wing
Four Modernaires with Jack Teagarden, vocal       1938
(Decca 2222-A mx 64793)

In 1935, a new style of popular dance music - swing - based largely on the "hot" sound created by black jazz bands of the early '30s took the nation by storm.  Almost overnight, Benny Goodman became the "King of Swing" seriously threatening the ability of the "King of Jazz" to appeal to younger audiences. 

Whiteman's response to the new direction in popular music was to embrace it and he promptly created a unit within his band devoted to the new style.  Whiteman called this "band within a band" his "Swing Wing" and it provided him with a means of appealing to the tastes of younger listeners without alienating his existing audience.

The Four Modernaires are best remembered for their later work with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  But like Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey and many others, The Modernaires' first big break was with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Moon LoveClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
Joan Edwards, vocal                                     1939
(Decca 2578-A  mx 65863)

By 1939,  what is now called the "big band era" was well established.   Here is how the Whiteman band sounded at the time on a slower tempo selection.  This song is an adaptation of Tchaikowsky's 5th Symphony, 2nd Movement.  The Glenn Miller Orchestra's version of the song became one of the top hits of 1939.

In 1943, Whiteman became the Music Director for the Blue Network - which later changed its name to ABC.  In 1947, he launched The Paul Whiteman Club which was network radio's first coast-to-coast disc jockey program.   Whiteman entered the age of  television with his own program, Paul Whiteman's Goodyear Review, which debuted in 1949.  He also hosted a TV series, America's Greatest Bands, which was a summer replacement series for the Jackie Gleason program in 1955. 

Paul Whiteman died in December 1967

April 17, 2003

This week's Hit of the Week is brought to you by
1941 Ethyl Gasoline Advertisement - Click On Image To See Larger View
Ethyl Gasoline Corporation
Click On Image For Larger View
(from 1941 ad)


Blue MoonClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Richard Himber and His Orchestra            1940
(Decca 3618-B mx 68452)

The Richard Himber band was very popular with New York City high society during the 1930s and 1940s and was a feature at such prestigious hotels as the Essex House, the Ritz-Carlton and Hotel Pierre.  Through its radio broadcasts and records, the band was also quite well known throughout the country. 

I discovered this recording a few weeks ago while going through a stack of blue label Decca records that I have had for quite a while but had not gotten around to listening to.  Himber's band was very versatile and was comfortable playing both up tempo swing and slower "sweet" selections.  What I like about this week's recording is its mixture of both.  It starts out with slow, lush  strings which suddenly give way to a pretty decent swing sound.  The recording was made in late 1940 but was not released until early 1941. You can hear a number of other recordings by the Himber band from the early 1930s on my online radio station Radio Dismuke.

"Blue Moon"  was composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Lorenz Hart and had a rather interesting history before it finally became a bit hit in the late 1930s.   Initially,  Rodgers and Hart wrote the song for the  MGM film Hollywood Review of 1933  which was supposed to star Jean Harlow.  The song had entirely different lyrics and was called "Prayer."   Both Harlow and the song, however,  were dropped from the picture which eventually opened under the name Hollywood Party.  MGM then asked Hart to give the song new lyrics for another  picture, Manhattan Melodrama which opened in 1934 and starred Clark Gable,  William Powell and Myrna Loy.  Manhattan Melodrama, by the way, was the film  that the notorious 1930s bank robber John Dillinger had been watching at Chicago's Biograph Theatre shortly before he was gunned down.  The original plan was for the song  to be performed under the title "Its Just That Kind of Play" - but it too was dropped from the picture.  Once again, Hart made changes and the song finally debuted in the film  under the title  "The Bad In Every Man"  performed  by Shirley Ross.   After Manhattan Melodrama,  Jack  Robbins, the head of the MGM's publishing division,  told Hart that he did not like the song's title but agreed to promote it if Hart changed the title to  something more commercially viable. Hart replied by asking if Robbins what  kind of title he had in mind - something corny such as "Blue Moon"?  When Robbins answered in the affirmative, Hart once again rewrote the lyrics and "Blue Moon" became Rodgers and Hart's biggest hit up to that time. 

April 10, 2003

This week's Hit of the Week is brought to you by
1939 Oldsmobile Ad
Click On Image For Larger View
(from 1939 ad)


I'll Never Be The SameClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Ziggy Elman and His Orchestra            1939
(Bluebird B-10342-B)

Let's Fall In LoveClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Ziggy Elman and His Orchestra            1939
(Bluebird B-10342-A)

This week's selections are from opposite sides of the same Bluebird 78 rpm record.  As was mentioned in last week's update, Elman was a trumpet player with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.  He also appeared with the Tommy Dorsey band.  While these selections were recorded under Elman's name, the band was comprised of fellow members of the Goodman Orchestra.  It wasn't until the late '40s when the dance band business was very much in decline that Elman started his own short lived band.

April 3, 2003

This week's Hit of the Week is brought to you by
1939 Plymouth - Click On Image For Larger View
Click On Image For Larger View
(from 1939 ad)

Fralich In SwingClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Ziggy Elman and His Orchestra            1938
(Bluebird B-10103-B)

And The Angels SingClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
Martha Tilton, vocal                             1939
(Victor 26170-A)

While the two selections presented this week have different titles, they are actually the same song.   "Fralich In Swing" was composed by Ziggy Elman and and based on a traditional Yiddish folk song.   Elman, a trumpet player for the Benny Goodman Orchestra, recorded the song  as an instrumental in late 1938 under his own name backed by fellow members of the Goodman band .  At the time, the Goodman had his own half hour weekly radio program over CBS called the Camel Caravan, sponsored by Camel cigarettes.  On January 3, 1939 lyricist Johnny Mercer became a regular member of the Camel Caravan cast.  Soon afterwards, Goodman challenged Mercer to set lyrics to "Fralich In Swing" and the result was "And The Angels Sing" which was introduced on the January 31 broadcast.   "And The Angels Sing" became a major hit for the Goodman band and is still considered a big band era classic.   After the song became a hit, RCA Victor removed the title "Fralich And Swing" from subsequent pressings of the Elman version on Bluebird B-10103-B and replaced it with the better known "And The Angels Sing."


Camel Caravan 
Radio Broadcast ExcerptClick on song title to stream or right clock on folder to download
Johnny Mercer 
Benny Goodman And His Orchestra
January 3, 1939

Here is an excerpt from the January 3, 1939 Camel Caravan radio broadcast in which Johnny Mercer made his first appearance on the program.  In this excerpt, Mercer describes his formula for song writing.  Mercer also sings some examples of his hits up to that time.  By today's standards, the dialogue sounds very contrived and downright hokey.



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