March 10th marks the 113th birthday of the Patron Saint of Jazz, one of the greatest musical geniuses of the twentieth century, the one and only Bix Beiderbecke.
Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (some sources claim his full middle name was Bismark, others say it was properly Bix) was born March 10, 1903 in Davenport, Iowa. Hearing the jazz music on the riverboats that ran from New Orleans to Chicago, Bix had an affinity for music from an early age, and played with a number of bands as early as high school. Bix was inspired to take up the cornet after his brother Burnie returned from his service in the Great War, bringing home a phonograph and some records by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, at which point Bix was hooked. He started recording with Dick Voynow’s territory band, the Wolverine Orchestra for Gennett, and later with the Bucktown Five and his own band, the Rhythm Jugglers. In 1926, Bix was hired by Jean Goldkette’s Orchestra in Chicago, but was fired shortly thereafter due to his inability to read music. He was rehired soon after, having brushed up on music reading, and played with many other jazz greats in Goldkette’s band, including Frankie Trumbauer (his frequent collaborator), Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, and the Dorsey Brothers. As Goldkette’s orchestra fell on hard times, Paul Whiteman hired away many of his top men, including Bix, to play in his orchestra, the most popular dance band of the day. All the while, Bix recorded hot (and sometimes cool) jazz tunes with Frankie Trumbauer’s and his own band for Okeh. Bix had only two loves in his life, music and booze, and unfortunately, the latter was taking his life away.
In 1928, Bix suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by an attempt to lessen his alcohol intake, and was forced to take leave of Whiteman’s band to recover at his home in Davenport. He returned to Whiteman’s orchestra in 1929, and traveled to Hollywood to appear with the band in King of Jazz, though he instead took the opportunity to drink with Bing Crosby, and did not appear in the picture. He once again returned to his home, and spent some time in a sanatarium, hoping to recover from his sickness. Paul Whiteman kept his chair in the band open, hoping for Bix’s return. After that, Bix made only a handful more recordings with an assortment of different groups. In his final recording session, on September 15, 1930, Bix played in Hoagy Carmichael’s band for the first recording of “Georgia On My Mind”. On a hot summer night in his apartment in Queens, Death came a-rapping for Bix Beiderbecke. On August 6, 1931, Bix practiced his piano into the night, around 9:30, he had a fit of delirium, believing that a gang of Mexicans under his bead was trying to kill him. His screams alerted a neighbor, who hurried across the hall to see what was wrong. Bix told him of what he saw, and dropped dead in his arms.
Vocalion 3150 was recorded September 9 and 17, 1927 in New York City by Bix Beiderbecke. It was originally issued on Okeh 40916, with the Vocalion 3150 reissue released around 1935, though this pressing dates to around 1938 or ’39. If anything, this late pressing, in exquisite condition, might well offer better playback than the original 1927 issue, as those pressings tend to develop lamination cracks around the edges, often causing a background rumble in playback.
On this disc, Bix plays “In a Mist”, also sometimes known (on the British issue, for instance) as “Bixology”, the only recorded piece of his Modern Piano Suite, which also included “In the Dark”, “Candlelights”, and “Flashes” (all of which can be found on Rivermont Records’ special edition 78 RPM release played by Bryan Wright.)
On the reverse, Beiderbecke is joined by Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang to play “Wringin’ an’ Twistin'” in their three piece band, with Bix doubling on cornet and piano.