Paul Whiteman., Digital ID 1517587, New York Public LibraryJoin us on Tuesday afternoon for a screening of King of Jazz (Universal, 1930) at LPA. Hollywood's Rave Revues is a film series programmed by John Calhoun in conjunction with the exhibition The Great American Revue, across the lobby in the Vincent Astor Gallery.
The film stars and is named for Paul Whiteman, an early radio star and innovator of symphonic jazz, now remembered primarily for commissioning Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. It is an early Technicolor, early sound film revue with links to George White's Scandals, through Whiteman, and the Greenwich Village Follies, through director John Murray Anderson.
The film presents many insights into early Technicolor and sound technology. Universal's Mono system lost the high range of voices, including most of the women singers, but favored male tenors and baritones, such as Bing Crosby. It also featured wonderful examples of eccentric dance specialties, including a truly spectacular and anatomically impossible rag doll dance.
The production number for which the film is remembered is the finale, in which costumed choruses representing immigrant groups dance their ways into a huge prop cauldron. Emerging from the melting pot is American jazz — at least the kind of symphonic radio big band jazz popular in 1930. It is an iconic sequence which shows up frequently in documentaries about American culture. It is, however, not original. Scene 5 of the Passing Show (the Shuberts' revue series) of 1919 was "The Melting Pot of America's Popular Tunes." Eddie Miller and the Winter Garden High Steppers (precision dancers) performed "America's Popular Song," by Shubert regulars composers Sigmund Romberg and Jean Schwartz and lyricist Harold Atteridge.