Jack à l’Opéra
Jack à l’Opéra
Jazz Bands in Black and White
If the black shows discussed in chapter 1 represented one aspect of jazz in interwar Paris, the circulation of mainly white jazz-band recordings on 78 rpm discs represented quite another. This chapter focuses on the unlikely “King of Jazz” in ’20s and ’30s France, British bandleader Jack Hylton, beginning with his 1931 performance at the Paris Opéra. Re-embodying, then assimilating, Paul Whiteman records, Hylton and “His Boys” had long toured Europe to great acclaim. Mistaken for Americans, however, the band’s popularity began to wane as resistance to US dominance mounted. Now they were often criticised for their “standardization” of a “dehumanized” musical “formula” – language borrowed from a pervasive anti-Americanism. Two seemingly paradoxical alternatives conspired to dethrone Hylton. On the one hand, bands such as Ray Ventura et ses Collégiens offered a “national” jazz with great nostalgic appeal. On the other, African-American performers found support from the influential critic Hugues Panassié’s distinction between “hot” (black) and “straight” (white) jazz. Audiences learned to perceive in both new models a depth and authenticity in contradistinction from the Hylton “product.” This chapter thus seeks to understand how an increasingly international recording industry existed in complex interaction with live performance and French tradition.
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