BIX BEIDERBECKE Vol.2
'Bix Lives!' Original Recordings 1926-1930
One of the great jazz musicians of all time and one ofjazz's first martyrs, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke perfectly symbolized the1920s. He was initially attractedto the spontaneity and carefree attitude of jazz, thrived during the peak yearsof the so-called Jazz Age and declined quickly in 1929 and after the Depressionhit, a victim of inferior bootleg liquor and his lack of self-discipline. But it was a fun ride while it lastedand the result was a series of classic recordings.
Born 10 March 1903 in Davenport, Iowa, Beiderbecke was achild prodigy who picked out tunes on the piano by the time he was three. Unfortunately his ability to play byear resulted in him not learning to read music for many years. After his older brother brought homerecords of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Bix taught himself thecornet. His parents soon became soconcerned about his lackadaisical attitude towards school that Beiderbecke wassent to Lake Forest Military Academy in 1921. However since the school was close to Chicago (which by thenwas the center of jazz), Beiderbecke often stayed out late sitting in withlocal 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. Hisbeautiful tone and lyrical style were different than any heard previously andhe soon had a strong underground reputation among fellow musicians and the mostdevoted 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 readmusic soon resulted in him being fired, although he was told that once helearned how to sight read he would be rehired. There are no recordings of Bix from the spring of 1925 untilOct. 1926 but he was active during the period, playing in Chicago, working inSt Louis with C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer's orchestra, learning howto read music and rejoining Goldkette. Unfortunately he also became an alcoholic during this time although itdid not affect his playing, at first.
1927 was Bix's prime year. He recorded with Goldkette before that band broke up, made aseries of classic records with Trumbauer and under his own name, and late inthe year he joined Paul Whiteman's hugely popular orchestra. Although Beiderbecke loved being partof Whiteman's prestigious big band, it eventually led to his undoing. His drinking became excessive in 1928and Whiteman's relentless schedule of radio shows, recordings and theatreengagements wore Bix out. Near theend of the year he had a mental breakdown and, although he made a comeback in1929, his playing was erratic and he was unable to stop drinking for long. In September after Beiderbecke becameunable to play during a record session, he was sent home to recover. Despite his best efforts, he neverdid. In 1930 Bix was back in NewYork, making a few record dates and having brief associations with groups, buthis decline continued. He died on6 August 1931 from pneumonia. Hewas only 28.
Naxos' previous Bix Beiderbecke album (8.120584) compriseseighteen of his best recordings. This CD presents twenty more. Five feature Bix as a sideman with Jean Goldkette's orchestra during1926-27. Due to a jazz-hatingrecord producer at Victor, many of the Goldkette recordings were danceband-oriented and had little solo space for Beiderbecke, but these five areconsidered the best representations of the band, particularly Clementine whichhas 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 moreconservative, Steve Brown (the first major bassist to appear on records) doeshis best to swing the final choruses.
Three of the songs are by Bix and his Gang and arehigh-quality dixieland. Jazz MeBlues and At The Jazz Band Ball have Beiderbecke sounding in superior form,jamming the two standards in a sextet with trombonist Bill Rank, clarinetistDon Murray and the masterful bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini in 1927. Wa-Da-Da, with Izzy Friedman and MinLeibrook in Murray and Rollini's place, is almost at the same level. There's A Cradle In Caroline, recordedwith the Broadway Bellhops (which includes Rank, Murray, Frankie Trumbauer andviolinist Joe Venuti) has Bix overcoming both a so-so song and the enthusiasticvocalizing of Irving Kaufman to make this a very worthwhile performance.
Nine of the tracks on this CD feature recording groups ledby Trumbauer. While Bix's mostfamous solo, \Singin' The Blues", will be found on the previous album, hisplaying here on Clarinet Marmalade (which is from the same session as "Singin'The Blues"), Riverboat Shuffle, Ostrich Walk and Way Down Yonder In New Orleansis on the same level. Beiderbeckenot only made every note count but even the silences between his notes aredramatic and meaningful. Trumbauer, Rank and Murray are inspired by Bix to play at theirbest. The other Trumbauer-ledrecordings included are a bit more commercial and feature vocals by Seger Ellis(Blue River), Scrappy Lambert (Borneo and My Pet) and Trumbauer himself (TakeYour Tomorrow and Baby, Won't You Please Come Home), but each has someimportant moments from the cornetist. Don't miss the Bix-Tram trade-off on Borneo (the lyrics of that song areremarkably 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 thename of his friend Hoagy Carmichael. The alternate take of Bessie Couldn't Help It was the final performancecut by Bix and he shows that he still had something left to contribute eventhough time was running out. Toend this set on a humorous note and to show how Beiderbecke could make magicout of any song, Barnacle Bill The Sailor has Bix featured in theensemble. Note the group singing,led by practical joker Joe Venuti, and try to make out what the violinist isreally saying!
Bix Beiderbecke may have only lived 28 years, but the manygems that he recorded are quite timeless and make him one of jazz'simmortals.
- author of seven jazz books including Classic Jazz (whichcovers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings