People are interested in people, and so it is fitting that we delve into the human side of jazz and take this opportunity to offer our people some background on the life of our currently featured historical figure, Bix Beiderbecke. Limited newsletter space allows us to present only a brief synopsis of an all too brief life, but a life that contributed mightily to the treasure trove of creative, improvisational, instrumental jazz interpretation and style.
Jim Loeffler, as astute a student of Classic/Traditional Jazz as there ever was, comes by it honestly -- his father was steeped in the genre, and lived through the heyday of Bix and his contemporaries. Jim furnished the following summary, written by his father, Bill Loeffler, which we offer as an introduction to the legendary figure whose contributions to the art will be celebrated in Andy Schumm's scheduled performance.
The below article was written by Wm. E. “Bill” Loeffler, 1939
Bix Biederbecke was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1904 and managed in his first 26 years of life, to set the final standard by which all hot trumpet and cornet playing is judged today. A majority of musicians and music fans are agreed that Bix was the greatest hot cornet player and the most inspired jazz mucisian of his time.
Many have spoken of him as Bix without really knowing from whence the nickname originally came. Strictly speaking, Bix Biederbeck is not the inimitable cornet player we all know, but an older brother, a music store proprieter in Davenport, who received the nickname "Bix" from friends long before young Leon did. The name was first applied to Leon as "Little "Bix", and later, as his fame grew, the qualifying adjective "Little" was dropped, resulting in his now familiar title, Bix Biederbeck.
Bix studied first to be a pianist, but when he was well on in his teens, he heard Louis Armstrong and King Oliver play on the riverboats that came to Davenport and decided that he wanted to take up the cornet.
His first public performance with an orchestral group was in auspicious company, although in a somewhat unique combination consisting of cornet, clarinet, drums and piano. Bix played the cornet, Benny Goodman the clarinet,(he was then only 12 years old), Dave Tough the drums, and Dick Voynow played the piano. Benny remembered the day (he was wearing his short pants,then) he first played with Bix. Bix thought that little Benny was Just fooling around with the instruments, and Dave Tough had to argue with Bix to let him stay on.
Attending Lake Forest Acadamy, Bix, joined a group called the Wolverines, which were very popular in the midwest at that time, and Bix's cornet was largely responsible for this popularity.
|Bix and the Wolverines, February 18, 1924|
Shortly after the Wolverine group went to New York, about 1924, they broke up. Bix joined Charlie Straight's orchestra for a while and then met with a new fella by the name of Frankie Trumbauer, who was makeing a name for himself in St. Louis about 1925. The Trumbauer-Bix association was a happy one, with plenty of photographic evidence of the partnership. Under the psuedonym of the Souix City Six, they made "I'm Glad" and "Flock 0' Blues" and then recorded together as members of Jean Goldkette’s Band, Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra and many small combos under Trams supervision.
In 1920, Jean Goldkette heard of Tram's success, but Tram would not join him unless Bix Was signed up with him. Jean accepted and so Tram and Bix joined Jean in Detroit.
|Bix with Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra|
In 1927, Paul Whiteman took over a large section of Jean's band and for the next two years Bix, Tram, and Bill Challis, (Goldkette's former arranger), were part of Whiteman’s band.
Bix was supposed to have appeared in a motion picture called "The King of Jazz", but alcoholism claimed him in the fall of 1929 and he had to retire from the band and return home and spend several months recuperating.
Bix never was strong enough for regular band work, and, except for a couple of radio dates and a few recording sessions, he was in retirement. The stories of his death are numerous, but the real truth is as told by Tram.
In the summer of 1931, Princeton U. was having a dance, with a pick up band that included Bix. Princeton would not accept the band unless Bix was there in person. Bix was in bed with a severe cold, but when he was told the news, he insisted on making the date. He drove to Princeton in an open car, while running a fever of 100 degrees. That, coupled with the heat of the dance hall and the cold ride back to New York, resulted in a case of pneumonia, and on August 7,1931, he died in a Long Island hospital.