By the mid 1920’s the jazz age had firmly taken hold. Phonograph records and the explosion of radio began to influence musicians outside of Chicago and New York, regardless of race – cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke being a great example of this.
Listening to the music that Bix recorded in the late 20’s is like listening to a soundtrack for a whole decade. The music is eerily familiar. Maybe it is because of the use of the songs in so many subsequent films.(Singing The Blues in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway and Blackboard Jungle, most famously.) However I feel the reason goes deeper. In listening to the songs you can hear the influence the music was to have over the big band era that was to come in the next decade. The crooner becomes popular around this time, (Bing Crosby sang on some songs that Bix played on). Even further than that, it could be said that, the music was highly influential over the “cool jazz” scene decades later. You know this music. It is intrinsicly complex and derives some influence from classical music as well as the hot jazz scene at the time.
The music is markedly different from the Hot Five and Seven recordings made at the same time by Louis Armstrong. And therein lies a lot of criticism. Many it seems have argued that the white bandleaders of the day made the music in a way that was less edgy – more mainstream and accessible. Akin to how Bill Haley and The Comets took the music of RnB and sanitised it to a certain degree to make it more accessible to white middle class America in the 50’s. I personally would disagree with this view. I believe the music has stood the test of time.
Bix himself is a source of controversy in jazz circles in relation to how important his contribution was to the history of jazz. He died young and was largely unknown at that point. Hence the Beiderbecke Romantic Legend and the “Young Man With A Horn” stories. No musical genre is without its legends but I think Bix Beiderbecke’s music stands up with the music that I’ve listened to from this era. His approach is very different from Louis Armstrong’s but no less potent for that. As a guitar player I like to think I can recognise great tone when I hear it.
Singin' The Blues, perhaps the most famous recording he was involved with, nicely demonstrates the collision of the hot New Orleans jazz and a sweet romantic sound.
The following songs are, I think, are a good representation of the Bix Beiderbecke sound. Of course this is only a snippet and I look forward to delving into the other recordings he made.
Here's a nice audio tribute.