The American trumpeter has just returned from the annual Bix Fest in Beiderbecke’s home town of Davenport, but found time to talk to Jazz Matters about his love of Bix.
“I discovered the joys of Bix as a wee lad in elementary school, thanks to my musician pal Mike Karoub. We were strange kids, hunting for hot jazz on 78s in second hand shops, inspired by our parents’ record collections. We were lucky to have parents who had (have) good taste in music, and Mike’s dad was the local junior high school band director, and a professional musician and conductor, and he helped steer us towards some good stuff.
“Mike called me one day, and said: ‘Get your ass over here right now – you gotta hear this LP I picked up. It’s of a cornet man named Bix Beiderbecke.’ We were 10 or 11 years old at the time, and we were blown away by what we heard, just as I am today, every time I listen to Bix. We put together a jazz band around this time, and saved up allowance and newspaper route money to buy arrangements to get the band rolling.
“As a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks since I moved to New York City in ’89, I have the dubious honor of playing the Bix parts on several arrangements and transcriptions. I have to tell you, trying to fill his shoes is a neat trick! But it’s been a great way to delve further into studying his playing, and I’ve learned a lot from it.
“One of the things I find fascinating about Bix’s playing is that he could sound so relaxed, and yet so driving at the same time. His time, rhythmic sense, attack and articulation, sense of timing and musicality all played a part in this. He was somehow able to play hot and cool at the same time! And what a tone! Instantly recognizable, and so beautiful.
“Not only did he play gorgeous and ingenious solos, but he was also a wonderful ensemble player, and always played a hot and clear lead when it was time to do so. His chemistry with Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, Adrian Rollini and the like was fantastic. I feel like he made those around him play even better than they might otherwise, and have read first-hand accounts that corroborated my theory.
“It’s hard to single out a favorite recording, but Riverboat Shuffle with Frank Trumbauer’s Orchestra is one of the first I heard, and it illustrates his masterful ensemble playing, confident leads and brilliant solo work. I also love his piano compositions dearly.”
Tomorrow: Dick Hyman.