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The Uncrowned King of SwingFletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz$
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Jeffrey Magee

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195090222

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195090222.001.0001

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The “Paul Whiteman of the Race”

The “Paul Whiteman of the Race”

(p.27) 2. The “Paul Whiteman of the Race”
The Uncrowned King of Swing

Jeffrey Magee

Oxford University Press

The early Henderson band's work has held a problematic place in jazz history. The group performed a wide variety of material, and this led some jazz critics, notably Hugues Panassié, to conclude derisively that Henderson was the “Paul Whiteman of the Race”. Panassié constructed an influential dichotomy that distinguished between “true” jazz — associated with black musicians, improvisation, lack of written arrangements, and independence from commercial pressures — and “false” jazz, typified by white players, written arrangements, and rampant commercialism. That simplistic dichotomy fails to explain the early Henderson band, whose success depended on savvy arrangements of popular songs and blues that deftly combined written music and improvisation. By examining the backgrounds of the sidemen Henderson led, the media that disseminated their music, the public venues where they played, and their repertory, a clearer picture emerges of Henderson's early work.

Keywords:   Hugues Panassié, commercialism, media, venue, repertory, arrangement, improvisation

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