About this Recording
8.120712 - BEIDERBECKE, Bix: Bix Lives! (1926-1930)



‘Bix Lives!’  Original Recordings 1926-1930


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 début 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 really saying!

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 immortals. 


Scott Yanow

– author of seven jazz books including Classic Jazz (which covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings

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