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Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music. Volume I: 1890-1930 by Don Rayno

One does not need to be a Rene Girard or Eric Gans scholar, whose studies address scapegoating and resentment in the formation of human communities, to understand how Paul Whiteman’s career was sacrificed as a central object of ideological desire. Such a process was greatly facilitated by unwarrantedly iconizing his music and life based on generalized resentment rather than factual research. Then and now, the Denver native seemed tailor-made for attack by racist jazzbo fundamentalists. Their enervating pollution of jazz’s intellectual stream centered Whiteman as a fallen or false object of human desire because of his skin color, remarkable international artistic and economic success, a maliciously created reputation for what turns out to be an imaginary mistreatment of his musicians, the misrepresented quality and import of his music and so much more.

Along comes Don Rayno, an author involved in a sacred music and Christian ministry in North Carolina, with a two-volume, veritable encyclopedia of quixotic proportions documenting this imperative figure. This is not a book; it is a vocation, going into its third decade, resulting in the definitive treatment of Whiteman with an unbelievably researched and documented discography. Transporting a reality-show production crew back in time to film Whiteman even in the crapper seems to be the only way to supersede the chronology of the bandleader offered in this work. Rayno also includes an extensive “Gallery of Whiteman Musicians” with previously unavailable biographical documentation. The body text of the research is a fine read, although this is not light beach reading. It is, however, quite a formidable physical and historical weapon against the type of self-imposed lunacy that envelops most critiques of Whiteman. There are not enough accolades for the 43rd book from the series sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

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