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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke




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A PAUL WHITEMAN "POPS" CONCERT
Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) and his Concert Orchestra
Featuring Bing Crosby, Hoagy Camichael, and Bix Beiderbecke
Recorded 1927-1929
NAXOS Nostalgia 8.120520 [59’46"]

 

My melancholy baby
Washboard blues
Sweet Sue - Just you
Among my souvenirs
The man I love
High water
La Golondrina
My heart stood still
Together
Moonlight and roses
La Paloma
Chlo-e (Song of the swamp)
Southern medley: Old black Joe-My old Kentucky home-carry me back to old Virginny-Old folks at home
Jeannine (I dream of lilac time)

‘Pops’ Whiteman is viewed as the pioneer of symphonic jazz and is probably best known, certainly by cross-over aficionados, as the man who put Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the map. Born in 1890 at Denver, Colorado, (he died in Philadelphia in 1967) he trained as a boy on the violin and in his teenage years was an orchestral as well as chamber music player, but during the First World War he discovered jazz. He first fronted a small nine-piece band, then he was taken up (1922) by Victor Records and produced the hits Whispering and The Japanese Sandman which sold two million copies. His unique ability to attract the best players in their instrumental fields to his band unsurprisingly produced performances of the highest calibre; names such as Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, the Dorsey brothers, Hoagy Carmichael and Bix Beiderbecke were legends in their own right but played under Whiteman. They were then joined by vocalists such as Harry Lillis ‘Bing’ Crosby when Whiteman’s New York base was extended to Broadway including such showtime hits as Ziegfeld’s Follies.

By 1927, when the first of these recordings were made, he had for several years been experimenting with a ‘pop’ style with the composer and pianist-arranger Ferde Grofé as well as using a symphonic treatment of arrangements of vaudeville and dance music. This disc has its marked characteristics, the ubiquitous inclusion of either vibraphone or celesta, the final cymbal clash to end so many of the tracks, extremes of vocal range (at times uncomfortable low at others in that falsetto style which Dennis Potter so exploited in the likes of Pennies of Heaven), sentimental melodies treated instrumentally such as the muted trumpet, nostalgic violin playing followed by Vaughn de Leath’s exaggerated vibrato in The Man I love make you wonder momentarily if this is all a spoof. The orchestrations are magnificently imaginative (down to the odd bassoon or viola solo), the instrumental breaks worth seeking out. Dvorak’s New World Symphony is beautifully parodied in High Water down to the use of the original cor anglais, but after this pseudo-Al Jolson cameo by Crosby, the best from him is saved for in the southern Medley of familiar numbers. Listen out for the ‘Third Man’ zither sounds in La Golondrina, twenty years before their time, giving it all an Hispanic folksong colour. Excellent transfers and the music nostalgic in the best sense of the word.

Christopher Fifield

 



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