Jazz at 100 Hour 8: Bix and the Boys

In the last hour we heard the most important jazz recordings of the 1920s – the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens led by cornetist Louis Armstrong. Perhaps the other most influential cornet player of the era was a young white player from Davenport Iowa, Bix Beiderbecke. In this hour we will listen to his music often in the company of C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer. We’ll also listen to several bands featuring cornetist Red Nichols and ground-breaking trombonist Miff Mole.

We are joined in this hour by Brendan Wolfe, the author of “Finding Bix – The Life and Afterlife of a Jazz Legend”. He is the managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Virginia, a project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Bix Beiderbecke.
Belying the geographic emphasis of jazz history contained within the New Orleans to Chicago to New York nexus, Beiderbecke, from Davenport Iowa, is among the first generation of players who discovers jazz on records, in his case those of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. His first great influence is ODJB’s cornet player Nick LaRocca. His distance from the centers of the music and the fact that he was self-taught may have allowed Beiderbecke to develop a cool and lyrical sound independent of the dominant hot and bluesy cornet playing of the period. He stands beside Armstrong as the other great seminal horn player of the twenties.

Jazz Me Blues. Wolverine Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Al Gandee-tb, Jimmy Hartwell-cl, George Johnson-ts, Dick Voynow-p, Bob Gillette-bj, Min Leibrook-tu, Vic Moore-d). 2/18/1924.
Jazz Me Blues brings us Beiderbecke’s first recorded solo, characteristic in his freedom from either the dirty growls and vocalized mute work of King Oliver or the high-energy, note-bending acrobatics of Armstrong. His solos “…sing in a way that was unique in the context of mid-1920s jazz. Not so much played, they sound as though lofted from the bell of the horn, left to float in a stream of warm air.” – Ted Gioia.
Copenhagen. The Wolverine Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-cor, Jimmy Hartwell-cl, George Johnson-ts, Dick Voynow-p, Bob Gillette-bj/g, Min Leibrook-bb, Vic Moore-d). 5/6/1924.
Tiger Rag. The Wolverine Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-cor, Jimmy Hartwell-cl, George Johnson-ts, Dick Voynow-p, Bob Gillette-bj, Min Leibrook-bb, Vic Moore-d). 6/20/1924.

Bix and Tram.
C-Melody saxophone player, Frankie Trumbauer, known as “Tram”, joined forces with Beiderbecke in 1925 and the two moved together through several bands. Together, they defined a new lyrical strain in jazz. Similar to Beiderbecke, Tram’s was a clean, light tone in sharp contrast to the prevalent earthier styles of Sidney Bechet or Coleman Hawkins. Tram “…presided over the most admired white small-group jazz records of the 1920s, and his sweet-without-being-corny timbre, lyricism, phrasing and song-like use of smears and glides … introduced a delicacy to saxophone playing that made an indelible impression on several major black saxophonists, notably Lester Young and Benny Carter.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Singing The Blues. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Jimmy Dorsey-cl/as, Miff Mole-tb, Paul Mertz-p, Eddie Lang-bj, Chauncey Morehouse-d). 2/4/1927. (The Norton Jazz Collection)
Departing from the often frenetic, or aggressively bluesy precursors, Singing the Blues played a strong role in establishing the ballad tradition in jazz, specially tenor ballads. “What Ted Gioia has termed an ‘artful balance of emotion and logic’ in Trumbauer’s and Beiderbecke’s solos helped shape an entire generation, including the innovative Lester Young” – Richard Sudhalter.
Clarinet Marmalade. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Jimmy Dorsey-cl/as, Bill Rank-tb, Paul Mertz-p, Howdy Quicksell-bj, Chauncey Morehouse-d). 2/4/1927.
Riverboat Shuffle. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Don Murray-cl/as, Bill Rank-tb, Doc Ryker-as, Irving Riskin-p, Eddie Lang-bj, Chauncey Morehouse-d). 5/9/1927. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Riverboat Shuffle is Hoagy Charmichael’s first recorded composition. Although he became a hugely successful composer of American popular song (Stardust, Skylark, Georgia on My Mind), he found his start as a writer and piano player around the fringes of Bix and Tram’s crowd in the mid-west.

I’m Coming, Virginia. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Don Murray-cl/as, Bill Rank-tb, Doc Ryker-as, Irving Riskin-p, Eddie Lang-g/bj, Chauncey Morehouse-d/harpophone). 5/13/1927.
Ballads like I’m Coming, Virginia are part of the reason that Lester Young said, in 1956, “Trumbauer was my idol. When I had just started to play, I used to buy all his records. I imagine I can still play all those solos off the record. He played the C-melody. I tried to get the sound of the C-melody on the tenor. That’s why I don’t sound like other people. Trumbauer always told a little story.” Note also Eddie Lang’s departure from the standard chunka-chunka role for the rhythm guitar.
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Don Murray-cl/as, Bill Rank-tb, Doc Ryker-as, Irving Riskin-p, Eddie Lang-g/bj, Chauncey Morehouse-d/harpophone). 5/13/1927.

Bix.

In A Mist. Bix Beiderbecke.
Bix Beiderbecke solo (-p). 9/8/1927.
“Numerous memoires from the period stress that Beiderbecke’s piano music was almost as striking as his cornet work, yet little substantive evidence survives beyond a single recording of
Bix at the piano… This is a difficult piece to place in Bix’s oeuvre. Many commentators have described it as an outgrowth of Beiderbecke’s fascination with impressionism… Others have viewed it as an expression of the romantic, plaintive side of his music and personality. Yet there is a cold, diamond-edged hardness to this piano piece… Only probing underneath its steely surface do we see the core emotion, not the warm suggestiveness evoked by Beiderbecke’s cornet playing, but a poignant sense of isolation and anomie, perhaps even despair” – Ted Gioia
Krazy Kat. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Frank Trumbauer-Cms, Don Murray-cl/as, Bill Rank-tb, Bobby Davis-as, Adrian Rollini-bs, Frank Signorelli-p, Eddie Lang-g/bj, Joe Venuti-vln, Chauncey Morehouse-d/harpophone). 9/28/1928.
While still in the context of “hot” music, Bix’s contributions were subtle, pensive, even plaintive.

Royal Garden Blues. Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Bill Rank-tb, Don Murray-cl, Adrian Rollini-bsx, Frank Signorelli-p, Chauncey Morehouse-d). 10/25/1927.
Sorry. Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang
(Bix Beiderbecke-c, Bill Rank-tb, Don Murray-cl, Adrian Rollini-bsx, Frank Signorelli-p, Chauncey Morehouse-d). 10/25/1927.
Richard Sudhalter describes to Bix’s mature soloes, as in “Sorry”, as “shot through with melancholy even in their sunniest moments.”

Red Nichols and Miff Mole.
Red Nichols, from Ogden, Utah, arrived in New York in his teens in 1923 and produced some of the most progressive jazz of the era in hundreds of recordings with a shifting cast of players, recording under various names. Morton and Cook describe Nichols’ horn work as precise and lightly dancing, calling his work a “truce between cool expression and hot dance music.” Miff Mole was the first trombone player to fully explore the melodic potential of the instrument, liberating it from its rhythmic and often comic supporting role. In the progression of the instrument, Mole’s work leads directly to that of the next trombone virtuoso, Jack Teagarden. Until Teagarden’s arrival in late 1927, Mole dominated hot trombone playing in New York.

Hurricane. Miff Mole’s Molers
(Red Nichols-cor, Miff Mole-tb, Arthur Schutt-p, Dick McDonough-g, Vic Berton-d). 1/26/1927.
Delirium. Red and Miff’s Stompers
(Red Nichols-cor, Miff Mole-tb, Jimmy Dorsey-cl/as, Alfie Evans-as, Arthur Schutt-p/cel, Tony Colucci-bj, Vic Berton-d). 2/11/1927.
“Nichols and Mole seem to have pioneered the idea that hot records could be made not just for dancing but for ‘the approval of your fellow musicians in the studio.’ This was new: black bands may have swung more, with more relaxed interaction, but these collaborations, in their sheer perfection, offered what can be termed hot chamber music, the modern jazz of its time.” – Richard Sudhalter.

In the next hour, we will return to Harlem to listen to the music of Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington during the period of 1927 – 1930, an interval that spanned from Black and Tan Fantasy to Mood Indigo.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Art of Bix Beiderbecke. Primo Records PRMCD 6025
Frankie Trumbauer: 1927 – 1928. Classics 1186
Miff Mole, Jazz Bix Beiderbecke – At The Jazz Band Ball. Columbia CK 46175
Miff Mole – Slippin’ Around. Frog DGF 19
Red Nichols: The Red Heads Complete 1925 – 1927. Classics 501
Classic Jazz: Vol. 015, Wolverine Orchestra, Sioux City Six, Bix Beiderbecke. The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection

Resources.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Bix Beiderbecke” by Digby Fairweather.
“Hot Music in the 1920s: The “Jazz Age,” Appearances and Realities” by Richard M. Sudhalter.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 6. Louis Armstrong and the First Great Soloists
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 3. The Jazz Age
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Frankie Trumbauer: 1927 – 1928
Bix Beiderbecke – At The Jazz Band Ball
Miff Mole – Slippin’ Around
Red Nichols: The Red Heads Complete 1925 – 1927
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 7. Bix Beiderbecke, Volume 1: Singin’ the Blues
Wolfe, Brendan. 2017. Finding Bix – the Life and Afterlife of as Jazz Legend. Davenport, Iowa. University of Iowa Press.

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