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Music of the Era

By Willa J. Collins

Jan Garber and Paul Whiteman are two key figures in American popular music during the early part of the 20th century.  Their orchestras were among several groups that supplied some of the growing demand for jazz and early swing music during the 1920s and 1930s.  Moreover, both men performed with their respective orchestras in several historical establishments in Coral Gables during the apex of their careers.

Jan Garber and his orchestra made regular appearances at the Country Club of Coral Gables from its opening in 1925 through the mid-1930s.  Garber’s semi-hot jazz style earned him an international reputation and a lucrative recording contract with Victor.  He included Coral Gables as a regular stop on his tour itinerary, which cultivated a great following throughout the city and served as a great marketing tool for his recordings.  Floridians also could dance to the music of Garber and his Coral Gables Orchestra in venues such as the Biltmore Hotel, the Venetian Pool, and the Ambassador’s Hotel in Coconut Grove.  The Country Club, however, was Garber’s premiere and most frequent venue; and as noted by author and historian Kenneth Ballinger, “Garber made many a heart flutter with ‘When the Moon Shines in Coral Gables,’” while dancing in the Spanish Gardens. Garber’s presence was briefly overshadowed in 1926 with the arrival of Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, which caused some friction between the two bands.  Upon Whiteman’s departure, however, Garber regained his original stature and fan base with regular engagements in Coral Gables and greater Miami though the early -1930s.  In April 1950, Garber and his orchestra returned to Coral Gables, taking time off from their Chicago engagement, to perform at the Country Club’s gala anniversary ball in commemoration of the city’s 25th birthday.

In 1926 the Coral Gables Country Club undertook an extensive renovation, expanding its seating capacity to 3,000, in addition to both an indoor and outdoor patio, each with a large dance floor, which would allow two orchestras or dance bands to entertain at the same time.  In addition to Jan Garber, the Country Club booked Paul Whiteman and his orchestra for the new opening.  Two years prior, Whiteman had gained additional attention and popularity with the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, which he commissioned from George Gershwin and performed as part of his “An Experiment in Modern Music” concert in New York City.  Great fanfare greeted Whiteman and his orchestra on their arrival at the Coral Gables train station, including a large delegation headed by Mayor Edward E. Dammers and Jan Garber and his orchestra. Whiteman was awarded the key to the city. The Country Club granted Whiteman and his orchestra the larger indoor performance space, leaving Garber and his band relegated to the smaller patio outside.  The Miami News noted that “after his playing of Rhapsody in Blue, there was possibly not a person in the house who was not completely won over to Whiteman and every man in his orchestra.”  During their five-week engagement, Whiteman’s band had a regular schedule of supper and tea dances Monday through Saturday.  Sundays, however, when they were not performing at the Country Club, the group played a two-hour concert at Tahiti Beach.  During his brief, but memorable stay, Whiteman, like Garber, took advantage of the various performance opportunities in the area, obtaining engagements at the Biltmore, the Venetian Pool, and Carl Fisher’s new Flamingo Hotel in Miami Beach.

Posterity has not been kind to Jan Garber and Paul Whiteman.  They had fame, fortune, and international acclaim during the zenith of their careers.  Today, though, their names have mostly disappeared.  The City of Coral Gables, however, remembers these men fondly as two of the greatest entertainers to perform in its city during the early days of “Miami’s Master Suburb.”  Moreover, the city’s historic landmarks are among the privileged few to witness and remember both Garber and Whiteman as significant figures within American popular music.