Jazz Pilgrimage to Davenport

I’m visiting friends and family in the Midwest this week, and I paid a visit to the childhood home of the great Bix Beiderbecke in Davenport, Iowa.

Bix’s music was magical, and his life was cut tragically short when he drank himself to death at age 28. He is one of my favorite jazz artists, and I half-jokingly say I trace my lineage back to Bix: a white musician growing up outside a major city who learned to play jazz by listening to recordings.

1934 Grand Ave, Davenport, Iowa

Plaque next to the front door
Bix first heard Louis Armstrong on a Mississippi riverboat docked in Davenport (this one is a casino that doesn’t move)

Bix’s cornet solo on “Singin’ the Blues” is among the most perfectly constructed solos ever recorded. The 1927 recording also features Frankie Trumbauer on C-Melody saxophone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, and Eddie Lang on guitar:

A few interesting notes:

  • Lester Young cites Frankie Trumbauer as his most formative influence and carried the “Singin’ the Blues” record with him.
  • Hoagy Carmichael’s songwriting, including “Stardust,” was deeply influenced by Bix’s improvisations. Carmichael wrote, “The notes were beautiful, and perfectly timed. The notes weren’t blown—they were hit, like a mallet hits a chime, and his tone had a richness that can only come from the heart.”
  • Louis Armstrong said he didn’t play “Singin’ the Blues” because Bix played it so perfectly.
  • This is the only known film of Bix playing (with Paul Whiteman in 1928).

– ST

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