Giuseppe (Joe) Venuti (September 16, 1903 – August 14, 1978) was an Italian-American jazz musician, considered to be the father of jazz violin.
At school in Philadelphia in 1913 he met guitarist Eddie Lang; they started playing together , at first playing polkas, inventing and trading variations, quickly moving into jazz. It was a fortuitous and rewarding partnership. From 1926 to 33 they made many recordings, in a variety of small band line-ups, becoming internationally famous, not least because the novelty of the guitar/violin combination.
Through the 1920s and early 1930s, Venuti and Lang made many recordings, as leader and as featured soloists. He and Lang became so well known for their 'hot' violin and guitar solos that on many commercial dance recordings they were hired do 12 or 24 bar solos towards the end of otherwise stock dance arrangements. In 1926, Venuti and Lang started recording for the OKeh label as a duet, followed by "Blue Four" combinations. Venuti also recorded a number of larger, more commercial dance records for OKeh under the name New Yorkers.
His approach to playing was mirrored very much in his character; he was a notorious prankster, and there are countless stories (often spread, exagerrated and quite possibly invented by himself!) of madcap adventures and escapades. He is said to have pushed a piano out of a fifth floor window in order to see what key it would play when it hit the sidewalk; to have nailed a pianist's shoes to the floor because he wouldn't stop tapping his feet; to have given a fellow musician directions to a gig which involved a 200 mile journey, ending up round the block from where he started, and perhaps most famously calling up 26 (or was it 46?) tuba players (or was it double bass players?) to an imaginary gig in Hollywood (or was it Manhatten?)- just for the fun of seeing the confusion as they all arrived at the same place at once.
According to one source, every Christmas he sent Wingy Manone, a one-armed trumpet player, the same gift--one cufflink. He is said to have chewed up a violin he borrowed from bandleader Paul Whiteman, when still on stage after his own performance with Whiteman's band had finished.
He worked with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters and most of the other important white jazz and semi-jazz figures of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Venuti and Lang recorded a series of milestone jazz records for the OKeh label during the 1920s. However, following Lang's early death in 1933, his career began to wane, though he continued performing through the 1930s, recording a series of excellent commercial dance records (usually containing a Venuti violin solo) for the dime store labels, OKeh and Columbia, as well as the occasional jazz small group sessions. He was also a strong early influence on western swing players like Cecil Brower, not to mention the fact that Lang and Venuti were the primary influences of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
This productive period was brought to a tragic close by the sudden death of Eddie Lang in 1933; he died in hospital during an operation for tonsillitis. Venuti then formed his own big band, but this did not prove a big success, whether because he missed Lang's steadying influence and more astute business sense, because of Venuti's increasing drinking
problem, or simply because musical tastes were changing. His career went into a rapid decline, and after the war he folded his band and moved to the West Coast to concentrate on anonymous Hollywood studio work. The only notable feature of this largely bleak part of his career was his numerous appearances during the '50's on Bing Crosby's radio show, where he was able to show off his quick wit, outrageous stories and gruff repartee to best advantage.
His fortunes changed once more in 1967; building on an electrifying appearance at the annual Dick Gibson Colorado Jazz Party, he resumed his recording career, working with artists such as Earl Hines, Bucky Pizzarelli and most notably the swinging tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims.
He continued working, appearing at major jazz festivals round the world up until his death from cancer in 1978.
His dazzling technique, humour and inventiveness helped to put jazz violin on the musical map, and he has been a major inspiration to all who have followed in his footsteps. (Info edited from www.fiddlingaround.co.uk & Wikipedia)
In a tribute to Bix dinner party in 1975 violinist Joe Venuti plays "China Boy". For a while Joe had pianist Marian McPartland on tour with him and one notices the terrific subtle back up lines Marian throws in. How light her accompanyment is as well. On bass is Major Holley and some fine drumming by Cliff Leeman.