Monday, June 9, 2008

Late Sunday Music: Bix Beiderbecke

My apologies for the absence of posts recently. I've been on a prolonged vacation, and music and friends have been keeping me busy. I've been slowly teaching some early jazz songs to two of the musicians I played with last summer. It's been enjoyable but slow going. So in light of that and in celebration of finding a trumpet player:

Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. "Sorry" (Howdy Quicksell). 1927.

Outside of fans of 1920s jazz, few could ascribe sounds and players of that era to any city except New Orleans. But it wasn't New Orleans that was the center of broadcast and recorded jazz: the hearts of the national jazz sound were Chicago and New York. Like the Ramones in England in the 1970s, when groups like the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and their records spread across the north in the late teens and early 20s, they left a wake of inspired young musicians. Among them were Bix Beiderbecke and the other young men who went on to form the Wolverine Orchestra.

Beiderbecke always ranks high among jazz cornet/trumpet pioneers, and though his recordings and story endured for decades after his death, he seems to have fallen from the popular history though his name occassionally pops up (such as in the decent 1991 biopic Bix). Louis Armstrong - as the stronger personality, showman, and band leader - has overshadowed Beiderbecke in history, but the latter and other Chicago and New York players' sweet, rich tones and complex, sometimes impressionistic arrangments prefigure the sounds that the big bands would continue to explore in the 30s.

Not to overlook Armstrong's technical abilities as a performer, but it's quite tempting to draw a line separating two sides of early jazz between the "pop" Broadway fare of Armstrong and the romantic artistry of Beiderbecke (who even composed Debussy influenced piano solos in his spare time).

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