Jean Goldkette led the most talented and successful jazz orchestra of the late 1920s. Born to a family of traveling performers, Goldkette spent his early years in Greece and Russia before immigrating to the United States sometime around 1910. Though a talented and classically trained pianist he was first and foremost a businessman. He saw potential in the rising jazz market and turned his sights towards popular music.
Goldkette played briefly with Andrew Raymond's band in 1921 before beginning a career as an agent and contractor in the Detroit area, organizing multiple orchestras under his own name and booking for such outlets as the Detroit Athletic Club and his own Graystone Ballroom. One of his contract groups, the Orange Blossoms, later broke from him to become the Casa Loma Orchestra. Goldkette also served as agent for McKinney's Cotton Pickers.
In 1924 Goldkette decided to put together a top-notch jazz outfit that could rival the popularity of Paul Whiteman's orchestra. Famous names featured at various times in Goldkette's banner group included Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Russ Morgan, and Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey. But despite the proliferation of talented performers the band's first couple of years were unexceptional. It finally came to life, however, in 1926 when trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer joined. On wax the group recorded many significant sides for RCA Victor. Live it was second to none, even defeating Fletcher Henderson's orchestra in a battle of the bands. Goldkette himself did not perform in any group which bore his name.
Financial problems caused by high musician salaries forced Goldkette to disband his all-star orchestra in 1927, though he continued to record under its moniker with a new line-up until 1929. Most of his former stars ended up joining Whiteman. Goldkette continued to work as a booking agent into the 1930s but had given up all his bands by 1930, deciding to pursue a career in classical music instead. He briefly organized popular music orchestras in the mid-1940s and 1950s, though he never again reached the levels he had attained in the late 1920s. Jean Goldkette passed away in 1962.