Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Giuseppe Venuti, 16 Sep. 1903, Philadelphia PA; d 14 Aug. 1978, Seattle WA) Jazz violinist and legendary practical joker, eclipsed '60s by alcoholism but came back for a second career. Countless stories had him pushing a piano out of a hotel room window, pouring Jello into Bix Beiderbecke's bath water, etc. He claimed to have been born in Italy, or on a boat coming over from Italy, but never told the story the same way twice, and and the truth has not yet been definitively determined. Both birth and baptismal certificates have been produced, but as researcher Marcello Piras has pointed out, Venuii spoke flawless Italian and Sicilian, but with an indeterminate accent; and birth certificates of Italian kids in Philadelphia drew information from baptismal certificates produced by the local Italian Catholic church, and the priests routinely provided certificates saying that the kids were born on American soil.
His style was rooted in classical technique; a close boyhood friend was guitarist Eddie Lang and they often worked together, legendary records including duos '26-7, Blue Four sides from '27 well into '30s. Venuti very effectively took the lead in the duos, his witty and inventive devices ideally accompanied by Lang, and was adept in bigger groups (often with instrumentation unusual for the period such as vibes, bass sax etc) in finding his way through the texture while retaining his musical personality. They co-led an all-star band which recorded '31 with Charlie and Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman; recorded with J. Dorsey, Adrian Rollini etc; also leaders Jean Goldkette, Red McKenzie, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Paul Whiteman (in film King Of Jazz '30; Venuti allegedly poured flour in the tuba during filming). Venuit visited Europe in 1935, formed his own unsuccessful band with young vocalist Kay Starr, and was drafted during WWII. He worked with Bing Crosby on the radio in the '50s, made a comeback '67 at Dick Gibson's Colorado Jazz Party and remained a star until he wore out, fighting cancer in the '70s. CDs include Violin Jazz 1927--34 on Yazoo with Lang and Rollini, 15 Jazz Classics '71-4 on Omega made in Milan, Sliding By '77 with Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli on Gazell; other albums: Joe In Chicago '78 on Flying Fish, Plays Jerome Kern And George Gershwin on Golden Crest with Ellis Larkins, two on Concord Jazz with George Barnes, one with Marian McPartland on Halcyon, The Daddy Of The Violin on MPS, Venupelli Blues with Stephane Grappelli on Byg, Nightwings with guitarist Pizzarelli on Flying Dutchman, etc. Several on Chiaroscuro include duo Hot Sonatas with Earl Hines, duo Alone At The Palace with Dave McKenna, sextet Joe Venuti And Zoot Sims.