Joe Venuti

Photo of Joe Venuti
  • Birth Name

    Giuseppe Venuti
  • Born

    September 16, 1903
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Died

    August 14, 1978 (age 74)
    Seattle, Washington

One of the first jazz vi­o­lin­ists, Joe Venuti wowed and amazed mu­sic fans for more than fifty years. Venuti was clas­si­cally trained, like many early jazz greats, and had a nat­ural skill on the fid­dle un­ri­valed by his con­tem­po­raries. He of­ten used a tech­nique, which he in­vented, that al­lowed him to play four-note chords. Throughout the years, Venuti’s abil­ity never waned. He re­mained im­pres­sive and vi­tal up to the time of his death.

Though it’s said that Venuti was born on the ocean liner which brought his Italian im­mi­grant par­ents to the United States, of­fi­cial birth records in Philadelphia state that he was born at 1010 Christian Street. Venuti was boy­hood friends with jazz gui­tar pi­o­neer Eddie Lang. During the mid-1920s, they be­gan an as­so­ci­a­tion that lasted un­til Lang’s un­timely death in 1933, record­ing fre­quently un­der sev­eral dif­fer­ent ti­tles and work­ing to­gether with many of the best artists of their day, in­clud­ing the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, Jack Teagarden, Smith Ballew, Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, Glenn Miller, Lennie Hayton, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Red Nichols, and Harold Arlen.

Venuti also recorded with Jean Goldkette’s or­ches­tra in the 1920s in place of trum­peter Bix Beiderbecke, who was not al­lowed in the stu­dio by the phono­graph com­pany as they felt his sound was too non­com­mer­cial. In 1929, Paul Whiteman signed both Venuti and Lang. Venuti was side­lined un­til 1930 due to an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent but re­cov­ered in time to ap­pear in the 1930 mu­sic ex­trav­a­ganza The King of Jazz.

After Lang’s death, Venuti headed a va­ri­ety of com­mer­cial big bands into the 1940s. Vocalists at var­i­ous times were Kay Starr, Ruth Robin, Don Darcy, and Johnny Prophet. In the 1950s, he worked with smaller com­bos and ap­peared on Bing Crosby’s ra­dio show in 1952 and 1953.

Problems with al­co­hol led to Venuti vir­tu­ally drop­ping out of sight in the early 1960s. He set­tled in Seattle, Washington, in 1963. Urged back into the lime­light, he per­formed at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival and ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival in the 1970s. He be­came ex­tremely ac­tive, record­ing with a slew of jazz and pop stars and ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion. His sec­ond round of fame was short, how­ever. Joe Venuti suc­cumbed to can­cer and died in 1978.