Bix Beiderbecke

Bix Beiderbecke

Infobox musical artist
Name = Bix Beiderbecke

Img_capt = Bix Beiderbecke in 1924
Img_size = 150
Background = non_vocal_instrumentalist
Birth_name = Leon Bix Beiderbecke
Alias =
Born = birth date|1903|3|10|mf=y
Died = death date and age|1931|8|6|1903|3|10
Origin = Davenport, Iowa, U.S.
Instrument = Cornet, Piano
Genre = Jazz
Occupation = Musician
Years_active = 1924-1931
Label =
Associated_acts =
URL = []
Current_members =
Past_members =

Leon Bix Beiderbecke (March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931) was an American jazz cornetist and composer, as well as a skilled classical and jazz pianist.

One of the leading names in 1920s jazz, Beiderbecke's career was cut short by chronic poor health, exacerbated by alcoholism. Critic Scott Yanow describes Beiderbecke as the " [p] ossessor of a beautiful, distinctive tone and a strikingly original improvising style. Beiderbecke's chief competitor among cornetists in the '20s was Louis Armstrong, but (due to their different sounds and styles) one really could not compare them." [ [ allmusic ] ]

Early life

Beiderbecke was born in Davenport, Iowacite web|title = Bix Beiderbecke|publisher =Quad City Memory|url =|date = | accessdate =2008-01-18 ] to a middle-class family of German origin. As a teenager he would sneak off to the banks of the Mississippi to listen to bands play on the riverboats arriving from the south.

Illness frequently kept Beiderbecke out of school, and his grades suffered. He attended Davenport High School briefly, but his parents felt that enrolling him in the exclusive Lake Forest Academy, north of Chicago in Lake Forest, Illinois, as a boarding student would provide him with both the necessary faculty attention and discipline to improve his academic performance. However, the change of scenery did not improve Beiderbecke's academic record, as the only subjects in which he displayed interest were music and sports. Bix began going into Chicago to catch the hot jazz bands at clubs and speakeasies. He often failed to return to his dormitory before curfew, and sometimes stayed off-campus the next day. Beiderbecke was dismissed from the academy due to his academic failings and extracurricular activities. His time now free, he began his musical career.


Beiderbecke first recorded with his band the Wolverine Orchestra in 1924. They were usually called the Wolverines, named for "Wolverine Blues" by Jelly Roll Morton because they played it so often. He became a sought-after musician in Chicago and New York City. He made innovative and influential recordings with Frankie Trumbauer ("Tram") and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. When the Goldkette Orchestra disbanded after their last recording ("Clementine (From New Orleans)"), in September 1927, Bix and Trumbauer, a 'C' melody and alto saxophone player, briefly joined Adrian Rollini's band at the Club New Yorker, New York. Beiderbecke then moved on to the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the most popular and highest paid band of the day.

Beiderbecke also played piano, sometimes switching from cornet for a chorus or two during a song ("e.g.", "For No Reason at All in C", 1927). He wrote several compositions for the piano, and recorded one of them, "In a Mist" (after it was transcribed from his improvisations by the Goldkette/Whiteman arranger Bill Challis). His piano compositions include "In A Mist", "Flashes", "In The Dark" and "Candlelights." These were later recorded by (among others) Jess Stacy, Bunny Berigan, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Dill Jones and Ralph Sutton.


Beiderbecke had suffered health problems from an early age and his health declined further in his adult years. He toured relentlessly, and consumed excessive alcohol,much of it low quality, and often somewhat poisonous, Prohibition Era alcohol. As a result, his stage performances began to suffer. Bandleader Paul Whiteman and his musicians were frustrated with Beiderbecke's behavior; another trumpet player famously wrote the reminder "Wake up Bix" shortly before Beiderbecke's solo on a sheet music transcript.Burns, Ken. [ "Wake Up Bix"] , television documentary]

His spirits also suffered due to declining work around the New York City area. In 1929 bandleader Paul Whiteman sent Beiderbecke back home to Davenport, Iowa, to recover from a breakdown (caused by alcoholism, related physical problems and the stress of touring). His treatment was initially successful, but failed later. During this recuperation period, he discovered in his parents' home a cabinet full of all his phonograph records he sent back home for his parents--all unplayed, after pleading for his parents' respect and recognition through his letters. In an interview in Episode 3 of "Jazz", Richard Sudhalter noted that while his mother was slightly supportive, his father was not. Bix was cutting an increasingly sad figure, and while he played intermittently over the next two years, when he was well enough to travel, neither he nor his playing was ever the same.

In late July or early August 1931, he took up residence at 43-30 46th Street, Sunnyside, Queens, New York City, where he went on his last drinking binge. He died in his Queens apartment alone on August 6, 1931, at 9:30 in the evening, just 28 years old. While the official cause of his death was "lobar pneumonia" and "brain edema", Beiderbecke actually died of an alcoholic seizure during "delirium tremens".

The production of bathtub gin was tremendous during Prohibition and continued widely until the Repeal of Prohibition some 18 months "after" Bix's death (or until practical enforcement of Prohibition laws stopped "before" the official time that the 21st Amendment went into effect), so up to the time that Bix went on his final bender he very likely drank large quantities of bathtub gin with Rotgut properties, since the most readily available alcohol at that time was illegal spirits, as opposed to industrial spirits that were illegally imported.

Beiderbecke is buried in a family plot in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport, Iowa. Although his penchant for imbibing was legendary, tales of the examining coroner getting drunk from the alcohol fumes are apocryphal.


Beiderbecke absorbed the music he heard of New Orleans jazz cornetists. He was influenced by Nick LaRocca of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. The LaRocca influence is evident in a number of Beiderbecke's recordings (especially the covers of O.D.J.B. songs.) Beiderbecke also absorbed patterns from Joe "King" Oliver, and clarinetist Leon Roppolo. Beiderbecke's famous two-note interjection on "Goose Pimples" suggests Freddie Keppard, among older New Orleans players.

According to many contemporaries, Beiderbecke was most influenced by Emmett Hardy, a highly regarded New Orleans cornetist of whom there are no existent recordings. Several fellow musicians said that Hardy's influence was very evident in Beiderbecke's early recordings with The Wolverines. New Orleans drummer Ray Bauduc heard Hardy's playing in the early 1920s and said that he was even more inspired than Beiderbecke.

Beiderbecke was also influenced by contemporary European music, such as the compositions of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and similarly by American Impressionists, notably Eastwood Lane.

Beiderbecke is remembered today for his own individualistic style of jazz cornet playing, which moved away from his predecessors and influenced those who followed. As Louis Armstrong said, "Lots of cats tried to play like Bix; ain't none of them play like him yet."

Influence on later musicians

Louis Armstrong once remarked that he never played the tune "Singin' the Blues" because he thought Beiderbecke's classic recording of the song should not be touched.

One follower was cornetist Jimmy McPartland, who replaced Beiderbecke in the 'Wolverine' Orchestra in late 1924. He continued to pay tribute to Beiderbecke throughout his long career (McPartland died in 1991).

Bix's influence was most noticeable amongst white musicians, but black players also fell under his spell, notably trumpeters and cornetists John Nesbitt (of McKinney's Cotton Pickers), Rex Stewart of (Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, Duke Ellington's Orchestra), and Doc Cheatham of (Cab Calloway's Orchestra).

In the 1930s Bobby Hackett was widely billed as the "new Bix", especially after he reprised Bix's "I'm Coming Virginia" solo at Benny Goodman's famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Later Bix-influenced trumpet/cornet players have included: Ruby Braff, Dick Sudhalter, Warren Vaché, Randy Sandke, Ralph Norton and Tom Pletcher.

Miles Davis was fascinated by Beiderbecke's playing, and sought out people who had known and played with him. Davis' silvery tone and understated, "cool" phrasing clearly hark back to one aspect of Beiderbecke's style.

Popular culture

The character Rick Martin in Dorothy Baker's novel "Young Man With A Horn" (1938) was partly based on Beiderbecke's life. The story was later adapted as a movie (1950) starring Kirk Douglas as Martin (with horn playing dubbed by Harry James). (According to some sources, first choice Bobby Hackett was passed over because of unreliability).

"Young Man with a Horn" was later parodied in the BBC radio series "Round The Horne" as "Young Horne With a Man", featuring "Bix Spiderthrust".

Beiderbecke's music is featured in three British comedy-drama television series, all written by Alan Plater: "The Beiderbecke Affair" (1984), "The Beiderbecke Tapes" (1987) and "The Beiderbecke Connection" (1988).


There has been debate about the full name of Bix Beiderbecke: was he baptized Leon Bix or Leon Bismark (Bix being a shortened form of the latter). He was named after his father Leon Bismark Beiderbecke. From the early 1960s onwards, Beiderbecke's living relatives (notably his brother Charles "Burnie") forcefully claimed that his name had always been Leon Bix. This was accepted as a fact by Beiderbecke researchers Phil and Linda Evans.

Other researchers, including Rich Johnson, have found documents showing his full name to be Leon Bismark. These include records from the Early First Presbyterian Church to which the family belonged, and from Tyler School, which Bix attended. In addition, the will of a relative, Mary Hill, named young Beiderbecke as a beneficiary. His mother signed for his receipt of her gift, writing "Leon Bismark Beiderbecke".

Beiderbecke appeared to dislike his formal name from an early age. For example: in a letter to his mother when he was nine (1912), he signed it, "frome [sic] your Leon Bix Beiderbecke not Bismark Remeber [sic] ." (this letter is reprinted in Evans & Evans pp 28-29). The family may have wanted to play down or avoid the more traditional German name of Bismarck during and after the tensions of World War I, when Germany was the enemy.


* 1962, posthumous induction into "Down Beat"'s Jazz Hall of Fame, critics' poll
* Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society established in Davenport, Iowa; founded annual jazz festival and scholarship.
* 2007, posthumous induction into the Gennett Records Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana.


* "Bix: Man and Legend" by Richard M. Sudhalter & Philip R. Evens (Quartet; 1974).
* "Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend" by Jean Pierre Lion with the assistance of Gabriella Page-Fort, Michael B. Heckman and Norman Field (Continuum, New York / London; 2004).
* "Our Language." Episode 3, "Jazz" (television miniseries) by Ken Burns. (PBS Home Video/Warner Home Video; 2001).
* [ Red Hot]

External links

* [ "dpl Quad City Memory"]
* [ "Bix Beiderbecke Resources: A Bixography"]
* [ "Bix Beiderbecke Resources: A Creative Aural History Thesis"] - A series of nineteen one-half-hour radio programs from 1971. Includes interviews with Frank Trumbauer, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Bing Crosby and Bix' brother Charles "Burnie" Beiderbecke
* [ The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, Davenport, Iowa]
* [ "Davenport Blues"] - An mp3 of Beiderbecke's first recording under his own name.
* [ "Celebrating Bix"] - A tribute album created to commemorate the centenary of Bix's birth by some of the world's finest traditional jazz musicians.
* [ "Bixology" (an excerpt)] by Brendan Wolfe, [] .
* [ "Twelve Essential Bix Beiderbecke Performances"] by Brendan Wolfe, [] .
* [ Quad City Times Bix 7, Davenport, IA]

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  • Bix Beiderbecke — (* 10. März 1903 in Davenport, Iowa; † 6. August 1931 in Long Island, New York; eigentlich Leon Bismark Beiderbecke, der Rufname Bix leitet sich von seinem zweiten Vornamen – dem Namen seines Vaters – ab [1]) war ein US amerikanischer Jazzmusiker …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • 'Bix' Beiderbecke — ‘Bix’ Beiderbecke [Bix Beiderbecke] (Leon Bix Beiderbecke 1903–31) a US ↑jazz musician and ↑composer who played the ↑cornet (= a type of small ↑trumpet …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival — The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival is a jazz festival dedicated to the music of Bix Beiderbecke. It is a four day festival held simultaneously in four different venues in Davenport, Iowa. The main venue is LeClaire Park on the Mississippi …   Wikipedia

  • {‘Bix’ }Beiderbecke — (1903–31) a US jazz musician and composer who played the cornet (= a type of small trumpet) and the piano. He was chosen for the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1962. * * * …   Universalium

  • Beiderbecke — Bix Beiderbecke Pour les articles homonymes, voir Bix. Jazz …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Beiderbecke — Bix Beiderbecke um 1927 Bix Beiderbecke (* 10. März 1903 in Davenport, Iowa; † 6. August 1931 in Long Island, New York; eigentlich Leon Bismark Beiderbecke, der Rufname Bix leitet sich von seinem zweiten Vornamen dem Namen seines Vaters ab [1] …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Bix (disambiguation) — Bix can refer to any of the following:* Bix, a Lithuanian rock group. * BIX, a telephony cross connect system created in the 1970 s by Nortel Networks. * Bix Beiderbecke, jazz musician. ** Bix 7, a 7 mile race in Davenport, Iowa, named for the… …   Wikipedia

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