One of the great jazz musicians of all time and one of
jazz's first martyrs, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke perfectly symbolized the
1920s. He was initially attracted
to the spontaneity and carefree attitude of jazz, thrived during the peak years
of the so-called Jazz Age and declined quickly in 1929 and after the Depression
hit, a victim of inferior bootleg liquor and his lack of self-discipline. But it was a fun ride while it lasted
and the result was a series of classic recordings.
Born 10 March 1903 in Davenport, Iowa, Beiderbecke was a
child prodigy who picked out tunes on the piano by the time he was three. Unfortunately his ability to play by
ear resulted in him not learning to read music for many years. After his older brother brought home
records of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Bix taught himself the
cornet. His parents soon became so
concerned about his lackadaisical attitude towards school that Beiderbecke was
sent to Lake Forest Military Academy in 1921. However since the school was close to Chicago (which by then
was the center of jazz), Beiderbecke often stayed out late sitting in with
local groups including the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. He was soon expelled and free to become a fulltime musician.
Bix was the star cornetist of the Wolverines during 1923-24,
making his debut recordings. His
beautiful tone and lyrical style were different than any heard previously and
he soon had a strong underground reputation among fellow musicians and the most
devoted jazz fans.
After the Wolverines made a strong impression in New York,
Beiderbecke was offered a job with Jean Goldkette's orchestra. He accepted but his inability to read
music soon resulted in him being fired, although he was told that once he
learned how to sight read he would be rehired. There are no recordings of Bix from the spring of 1925 until
Oct. 1926 but he was active during the period, playing in Chicago, working in
St Louis with C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer's orchestra, learning how
to read music and rejoining Goldkette.
Unfortunately he also became an alcoholic during this time although it
did not affect his playing, at first.
1927 was Bix's prime year. He recorded with Goldkette before that band broke up, made a
series of classic records with Trumbauer and under his own name, and late in
the year he joined Paul Whiteman's hugely popular orchestra. Although Beiderbecke loved being part
of Whiteman's prestigious big band, it eventually led to his undoing. His drinking became excessive in 1928
and Whiteman's relentless schedule of radio shows, recordings and theatre
engagements wore Bix out. Near the
end of the year he had a mental breakdown and, although he made a comeback in
1929, his playing was erratic and he was unable to stop drinking for long. In September after Beiderbecke became
unable to play during a record session, he was sent home to recover. Despite his best efforts, he never
did. In 1930 Bix was back in New
York, making a few record dates and having brief associations with groups, but
his decline continued. He died on
6 August 1931 from pneumonia. He
was only 28.
Naxos' previous Bix Beiderbecke album (8.120584) comprises
eighteen of his best recordings.
This CD presents twenty more.
Five feature Bix as a sideman with Jean Goldkette's orchestra during
1926-27. Due to a jazz-hating
record producer at Victor, many of the Goldkette recordings were dance
band-oriented and had little solo space for Beiderbecke, but these five are
considered the best representations of the band, particularly Clementine which
has a classic Bix solo.
Sunday has some dated but charming singing from the Keller Sisters and,
while Slow River, Idolizing and I'm Going To Meet My Sweetie Now are more
conservative, Steve Brown (the first major bassist to appear on records) does
his best to swing the final choruses.
Three of the songs are by Bix and his Gang and are
high-quality dixieland. Jazz Me
Blues and At The Jazz Band Ball have Beiderbecke sounding in superior form,
jamming the two standards in a sextet with trombonist Bill Rank, clarinetist
Don Murray and the masterful bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini in 1927. Wa-Da-Da, with Izzy Friedman and Min
Leibrook in Murray and Rollini's place, is almost at the same level. There's A Cradle In Caroline, recorded
with the Broadway Bellhops (which includes Rank, Murray, Frankie Trumbauer and
violinist Joe Venuti) has Bix overcoming both a so-so song and the enthusiastic
vocalizing of Irving Kaufman to make this a very worthwhile performance.
Nine of the tracks on this CD feature recording groups led
by Trumbauer. While Bix's most
famous solo, "Singin' The Blues", will be found on the previous album, his
playing here on Clarinet Marmalade (which is from the same session as "Singin'
The Blues"), Riverboat Shuffle, Ostrich Walk and Way Down Yonder In New Orleans
is on the same level. Beiderbecke
not only made every note count but even the silences between his notes are
dramatic and meaningful.
Trumbauer, Rank and Murray are inspired by Bix to play at their
best. The other Trumbauer-led
recordings included are a bit more commercial and feature vocals by Seger Ellis
(Blue River), Scrappy Lambert (Borneo and My Pet) and Trumbauer himself (Take
Your Tomorrow and Baby, Won't You Please Come Home), but each has some
important moments from the cornetist.
Don't miss the Bix-Tram trade-off on Borneo (the lyrics of that song are
remarkably silly) or Beiderbecke's simple but very effective statement on Baby,
Won't You Please Come Home.
In 1930, Bix recorded three final sessions, two under the
name of his friend Hoagy Carmichael.
The alternate take of Bessie Couldn't Help It was the final performance
cut by Bix and he shows that he still had something left to contribute even
though time was running out. To
end this set on a humorous note and to show how Beiderbecke could make magic
out of any song, Barnacle Bill The Sailor has Bix featured in the
ensemble. Note the group singing,
led by practical joker Joe Venuti, and try to make out what the violinist is
Bix Beiderbecke may have only lived 28 years, but the many
gems that he recorded are quite timeless and make him one of jazz's
- author of seven jazz books including Classic Jazz (which
covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings