Paul Ash: The Rajah of Jazz

Paul Ash (1891-1958) was a big band leader of the Paul Whiteman era, an almost exact contemporary of the “King of Jazz”. Born in Germany, Ash was raised in Milwaukee where he got his first professional experience playing in smaller bands in vaudeville in the early teens. Following World War One service, he started a dance orchestra, first in Springfield, Illinois, then Chicago, where it became one of the most popular musical outfits of the Jazz Age, heard on radio and on disks released by Brunswick and Columbia Records. Ash’s hits of the ’20s included “Thinking of You” (which became Kay Kyser’s theme song, and was co-written by Ash), “Rememb’ring”, “My Pet” “That’s Why I Love You”, “Who’s Your Sweetheart?”, and “Shadows on the Swannee”.

In addition to the merits of his music, one thing that set Ash apart as a personality and a showman (as the ad above indicates) is the unusual length of his hair. It may not seem extravagant these days, but in the post-World War One era, locks of that length were highly unusual. It tended to be associated with classical musicians in those days (hence the phrase “long hair music”) or eccentric intellectuals like Albert Einstein. It was the kind of thing that set you apart.

Towards the end of the twenties, Ash switched from engagements in dance halls and ballrooms to “sit-down” theatres like the McVickers and the Oriental. Popularity at the latter allowed his final big move to New York, where he established himself as one of the major presences in presentation houses like the Paramount Theatre and the Roxy. Ash remained active in New York’s live entertainment scene through the mid ’40s. Big names who got their start with Paul Ash included Helen Kane, Martha Raye and Benny Goodman.

To learn more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous