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Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Bix Beiderbecke Story - Vol. III - Whiteman Days


In A Mist

Bless You Sister

The Bix Beiderbecke Story
Vol. III
Whiteman Days
Columbia CL 846

From the back cover: The Bix Beiderbecke who joins Paul Whiteman's band in Indianapolis in early November, 1927, was still pretty much in a world all his own, although he had learned to make compromises such as clean shirts and nothing loud before midnight, please. He was good, and Whiteman liked him and paid him well, but Bix would have played for less if he had been allowed to play more.

Bill Challis, Goldkette's arranger, joined Whiteman just before Bix did. As before, he frequently wrote passages especially for Bix, either as lead horn or for the ad lib solos with whatever sort of background Bix wanted. The other section men admired and respected Bix (with Goldkette, they were Ray Ludwig and Fuzzy Farrar; Whitman usually had Charlie Margulies, Eddie Tinder, and Henry Buss, who was later replaced by Harry Goldfield) and they always made a point of helping Bix with the tough concert arrangements. But it was never enough to make up for the fact that Bix often had to sit there for an hour blowing section harmonies (or just plain sit through the Ferde Grofé productions) and when he finally got a chance to play something on his own it was over before he could really get started.

By 1929 the pace was really rough. Whiteman's radio show was packed with new tunes every week, and Bix had to work harder than ever at the aspect he disliked most. Drinking didn't help much any more, because now drinking itself was pushing Bix around even more than the commercial music. It got to the point where Whiteman had to sent him for a cure, and when Bix got out of the hospital in February, 1930, he was scarcely able to return to the grind. He went home to Daveport for a while, and returned to New York, but it was obvious that he couldn't go back with Whiteman.

Challis tried to get Bix into the Casa Loma Orchestra, an ex-Goldkette unit that was just beginning to build a reputation that was ago make it the prom-trotter's favorite in the early thirties. Bix didn't have much confidence in his own ability to cut the tough Gene Gifford arrangements, though Challis had done several for the band which were based on arrangements that Bix had played often. After one false start that got no further than the Plaza entrance of Central Park, Challis and Corky O'Keefe, the band's manager, drive Vix up to Connecticut to give it a try. Four nights of the constant repetition that the Casa Romans needed to execute the precision arrangements were all Bix could stand, and he rolled back into town further off the wagon than ever.

For the first time in his life, Bix was broke. The considerable amount of money he had sent home to his sister through the years was lost in the crash; Bix had invested it all in bank stock, and the stockholders' double liability of those days wiped out all his savings. Club dates were few, but still he managed to stay on at the 44th Street Hotel. Among his companions in those days was a fellow named George Herman Ruth, who had an afternoon job with a ball club up at East 161st Street. Bix, a well-built fellow with a physique that remains robust until his final illnesses, had always been a baseball fan and had even played for the Lake Forest Academy team, as an old yearbook picture attests. His friendship with The Babe survived the fact that Bix's room was so small that Ruth had to take the door off the hinges to get in – or so they say.

Bix tunred more and more to classical music and playing the piano. He frequently spent the day at Bill Challis' apartment of Riverside Drive and 81st Street, where they gradually worked out a score on In A Mist and some other piano pieces Bix had developed though the years. (Candlelight, Flashes In The Dark). It was slow going, there was a jug hidden in the bathtub where Challis' sister, who also lived there, wouldn't see it. But aside from that Bix never played anything the same way twice. He was very conscientious about the piano scores, though; he had a premonition that something might happen to him, and he wanted to be remembered mostly by them. The published version of In A Mist differs somewhat from the recording, partly because Bix wanted to make revisions and partly because the publisher wanted a slow section just before the return to the first theme. After Bix's death, Challis also edited Bix's Davenport Blues in the same style for piano. Bix's last year was a downhill slide which his friends don't like to recall. There were a few commercial record dates, a short-lived attempt to take an all-star gang to Europe, and finally the move to Queens, where the cold Bix had been curing for years caught up with him.

The recordings in this volume of "The Bix Beiderbecke Story" are taken from the Paul Whiteman period, except that In A Mist was recorded a few weeks before his joined. It is, however, the most concrete example on wax of the musical thinking which dominated Bix during his last years and rightfully belongs in this group.

Margie, a throwback to the early dixieland session, is an odd side from the last Bix and His Gang date, and was not issued until many years after his death. The rest of the records are all celebrated Bix items, bur for his solo work only.

The right band for Bix would have been Tesch, Condon. Sullivan, Freeman and Krupa, or maybe one or two of the other white Chicagoans who worshipped him and who could play with him as practically no one else ever did. But the music they made together was never heard beyond jam session of which the surviving musicians and others who heard them still speak with reverence.

We asked musicians how it was that these perfectly mated partners for Bix never got together in a studio with him. "Bix actually traveled in a different crowd," said one."He didn't job with us, and in Chicago we got together only when he blew it for a week or so between working elsewhere in the middle west. And our bunch got precious few record dates, remember – small wonder Bix just wasn't around during  them. In New York Bix was established with that other gang. How many records did we get to make at that time in New York? Six sides – and three of them weren't released until more than ten years later!"

"As for Bix's record dates," said another, "he just recorded whenever Trumbauer or somebody told him to come, and the invitation didn't include guests. You known, Bix carried the whole band his back on all those dates – when he blows on those records, he's blowing trombone, beating the drums, and everything else. He had to – he was the only real guy on them."

Though this is essentially true of every session Bix ever made in his life, it's especially so with these last recordings with the Trumbauer studio band and the regular Whiteman orchestra. The Trumbauer arrangements were getting to be more anymore commercial (as opposed to the freedom will present in such earlier arrangements as Riverboat Shuffle and Ostrich Walk) and almost all the tunes were current pops. Trumbauer sang many of the vocals, with indifferent results, but some of the Rudy Vallee types (not represented in the present recordings) were considerably worse. But Bix was used to keeping his blinders on, and whenever he got up to play the atmosphere changed immediately. His solo style is represented here, and his unflagging spirit is all there remarkable when one hears in full the barren music surrounding him.

The public liked Trumbauer's whimsical saxophone playing, and Bix, though far more serious in his playing, often worked hand-in-glove with Tram's musical ideas. On Borneo, for example, which contains not only a fine first chorus lead by Bix but a Scrappy Lambert vocal that lampoons the whole ridiculous idea of a Tin Pan Alley song about Borneo. Bix and Tram indulge in one of their favorite pastimes: a "chase" chorus. Bix plays two bars, Tram plays two. Bix seres him, ands on for the whole chorus. They keep the melodic line going in one continuous improvisation, and when Bix mousetraps theist eight bars of the chorus with a pregnant little silence. Tram does it too when it's his turn.

They pull a variation of this trick on Baby, Won't You Please Come Home. Tram ends his chorus with an ascending phrase and Bix comes in to start his chorus with a variation on the same phrase. Incidentally this is a record which Bix scholars love to argue about. Andy Secrest also played the date, and until the last few bars only one cornet can be heard at a time. Who plays which? It's our guess that it's Secrest in the first chorus, Secrest again in the second, and still Secrest behind Tram's vocal, except for the first fill-in (second bar). After that, Bix plays the muted stuff, with Secrest returning to punch out the lead in the final chorus and Bix coming up over him in the last eight.

Bix and Bing Crosby steal the honors on the Whiteman recordings in this set. The Whiteman band was a truly top-heavy organization and the arrangements were often the height of pretentiousness. The "concert" interpretation of Sweet Sue is a real period piece. (The celesta background behind Jack Fulton's piping vocal – which is also typical of the era – was once thought to be played by Bix, but is is by Lennie Hayton.) Fulton recalls that Bix was in bad shape that day, and wore everyone down by fluffing notes in the run-downs preceding the recording. "He had everybody about crazy before finally settling down into that cozy going, as if to say, 'Why didn't you guys say you wanted to get out of here?'" His silo, played with a derby over the bell of his cornet, is one of the finest muted choruses he ever recorded.

The Bix legend stated fast and has never slowed down. The Princeton fans were the first collector of his records. The word spread swiftly, and by 1936 reissues had been made of several Bix and His Gang sides and some of the better Trumbauers. Dorothy Baker wrote Young Man With A Horn; Rick Martin, as she pointed out, wasn't Bix, but there's no doubt Rick couldn't have  been invented without Bix as the model.

Bix left his mark in the work of others, although not necessarily in the form of direct imitation. Andy Secrest, Doc Evans, Bill Priestley (whom Bix actually taught to play cornet) and Bobby Hackett can give you Bix choruses that sound almost like the real thing. (Most of Bix's solo on Royal Garden Blues in Vol. 1 sound more like Hackett than Bix!) Red Nichols based his whole style on Bix. But the one who came closest was Jimmy McPartland, the greatest white cornet."

Bix in his final year, and living as best he could with almost no money, is something of a stranger to historians and to his fellow musicians as well. They grow uncomfortable in discussing Bix's last musical directions, and prefer to talk about he Bix they really knew, when he was one of the boys on and off the bandstand. The beauty of tone, commanding drive, the fantastic, fascinating succession of ideas are what they remember, and they are what made him a legend that will live as long as jazz is known.

Date and Personnels

September 9, 1927: In A Mist. Piano solo by Bix Beiderbecke

April 10, 1928: Borneo. Bix Beiderbecke (cornet); Harry Goldfield (trumpet); Bill Frank (trombone); Izzy Friedman (clarinet); Frank Trumbauer (C-melody sax); Harold Strickfadden (alto and baritone sax); Min Leibrook (bass sax); Matty Malneck (violin); Lennie Hayton (piano); Eddie Lang (guitar); George Marsh (drums). The vocalist is Scrappy Lambert.

July 5, 1928: Bless You! Sister. September 20, 1928: Take Your Tomorrow. Same personnel except without Goldfield and with Harry Gale replacing Marsh. The vocalist in both performances is Trumbauer.

September 21, 1928: Maggie. Same personnel as on September 20, except without Strickfadden and Malneck.

April 17, 1929: Baby, Won't You Please Come Home. Same personnel as on April 10, 1928 except that Andy Secrest replaces Goldfield and Stan King replaces Marsh. Trumbauer is the vocalist.

The remaining selections were with the Paul Whiteman orchestra between May 22, 1928 and May 4, 1919. The Beiderbecke cornet solos are easily distinguishable, and the other soloists include Rank, Trumbauer (who also plays the bassoon solo on 'Taint so), Strickfadden and Friedman. The vocals by Bing Crosby and eh Rhythm Boys are also quickly recognizable. 

The Bix Beiderbecke Story, part of Columbia's continuing Golden Era reissues is produced and edited by George Avakian. internationally recognized authority on jazz.

In A Mist
Take Your Tomorrow (And Give Me Today)
Bless You! Sister
Won't You Please Come Home?
'Taint So, Honey, 'Taint So
That's My Weakness Now
Sweet Sue, Just You
China Boy
Because My Baby Don't Mean Maybe Now
Oh, Miss Hannah

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