"In discarding all pretense of solemnity Venuti and his contemporaries perpetuated the emphasis of the ragtime their own specialty [i.e. jazz] replaced, which was the first American musical idiom to make significant (if not deliberate) inroads upon the pomposity, melodrama, sentimentality and even seriousness of pop music." -- S. Calt.
Jazz violinist Joe Venuti was born on this day in 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Venuti played violin in grade school with fellow violinist Eddie Lang. Lang switched to banjo and guitar for their after-school jam sessions, goofing with mazurkas and polkas in jazzed up 4/4 time. While Lang stayed in Philadelphia, Venuti became a widely traveled freelance dance band musician. Eventually, Venuti and Lang moved to New York City and became an influential dance-jazz partnership.
Venuti himself was the first great jazz violin soloist, exhibiting a confident, playful inventiveness in their legendary recordings together, as well as those with saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Benny Goodman and coronetist Bix Beiderbecke. The bouncy Lang and Venuti sides, recorded between 1926 and 1933, were particularly influential in the development of jazz in Europe, the violin-guitar duo becoming one of the most popular European jazz combinations.
After Lang's untimely death, Venuti drifted in Europe, suffered from alcoholism, and made a brief comeback in the 1950s with Bing Crosby's radio show before attaining stardom once again in the late 1960s, recording as a violin-jazz elder statesman in his later years with Stephane Grappelli, Earl Hines and Marian McPartland. He died on August 14, 1978 in Seattle, Washington.
Known as a practical joker, Venuti once pushed a piano out of a hotel room window, poured jello into Bix Beiderbecke's bathtub, and even put flour in a tuba on the set of Paul Whiteman's movie King of Jazz (1930).