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.