[Dixielandjazz] Response to Bix Beiderbecke's relative--
nvickers1 at cox.net
Thu Aug 7 07:17:12 PDT 2003
Hello Listmates: Rich Johnson, a longtime-leader at the Bix Fest, solicited
comments from a number of friends relating to comments from a Bix
Beiderbecke relative. Here are some responses, especially Albert Haim's
comments. Thought this would be of interest and would elicit some edifying
comments from this astute group.
Should you wish to respond to Rich, his address is at the bottom of this
rather long treatise. Thank you!
Hello Rich, Albert Haim and jazz lovers: I have only one small criticism
of this well-documented article, Albert. This relates to the Preservation
Hall Jazz Band. Preservation Hall JB is composed of both black and white
musicians. The leader, Jaffe ( I have forgotten his first name-now passed
down to the son on occasion of his founder-father's death. I believe the
founder-father was named Allen) is white and John Royen their main pianist
is white. I'm sure there are others but these are the two which come to
You are right, Albert, most of the players of traditional jazz, with the
exception of the New Orleans players, are white. I have sat, as I'm sure
many of you have, in discussions about this and lamented the fact that there
was a paucity of black traditional players and traditional bands.
F. Norman Vickers
Volunteer Executive Director
Jazz Society of Pensacola, Inc.
From: Kurt [mailto:bowermastergroup at qwest.net]
BRAVO! Well thought out and written. I hope you submit this to the QC
Times editorial page and they print it in all its glory.
Des Moines, Iowa
From: Albert Haim [mailto:haim at sbchem.sunysb.edu]
Dear Rich and other Jazz Lovers,
I spent the last hour and a half composing this reply. I stopped at 9:30
pm to play Bix's "I'll Be A Friend With Pleasure" and thinking about Bix.
How unfair to Bix to have to defend him on the anniversary of his passing.
My words are strong. I am afraid they are a reflection of how upset I am
about Mr. Steve Beiderbecke's unwarranted, unfair and baseless complaints.
Steve Beiderbecke has his facts wrong and has little if any
understanding of the current jazz scene. Therefore, his complaints have
absolutely no foundation.
Let me be specific. I will start with Mr. Beiderbeckes assertions and
will show that they are pure fabrications. I will then analyze his
Assertion # 1. Mr Beiderbecke pointed out that Bix Beiderbecke
solidified his reputation as a great musician while playing with black jazz
performers during the Roaring Twenties even when racial tensions in the
country were high.
This is incorrect. Bix solidified his reputation while playing
exclusively with white musicians. Beginning in 1922 Bix started playing
professionally. Examples of Bixs professional activities are as follows.
July 1922. White Lake Yacht Club, White Lake, MI with four white
August 1922.Delavan Lake Country Club, Delavan WI with three white
September 1922. Alhambra Ballroom, Syracuse, NY with seven white
musicians, one of them guitarist Eddie Condon.
By September 1923, Bix was playing in Chicago and eventually joined
the Wolverines, a band made up exclusively of white musicians. The Wolverine
Orchestra made a series of legendary recordings in 1924. That was what
brought Bixs musical genius to the attention of other jazz musicians. The
Wolverine records solidified Bixs reputation.
In 1925, Bix was playing in St. Louis Arcadia Ballroom with Frank
Trumbauers orchestra composed of about a dozen white musicians.
In 1926, Bix joined the Jean Goldkette orchestra composed of only
white musicians. Bixs reputation was growing and culminated with his
recording, on February 4, 1927 of the seminal Singin the Blues. This
recording influenced white and black musicians alike. It is considered by
most jazz critics/historians as one of the two most important jazz
recordings of the 1920s. The band that recorded that key number was composed
exclusively of white musicians.
At the end of 1927, Bix joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the most
popular and successful band in the US in the 1920s, a band that at times
consisted of as many as 30 musicians, all white.
Thus, the historical record outlined above, proves conclusively that
Bix played during all of his professional life with white musicians. He did
jam on occasion with black musicians. But he already had established his
reputation before the jam sessions. It is well documented that instances of
Bixs playing with black musicians were few and far in between.
Therefore, there is no factual basis for Mr. Steve Beiderbeckes
Assertion #2. He [Bix] was a white man playing a black mans music.
Again, this is not supported by the facts. By the late 1910s, jazz was no
longer black mans music, if it ever was. Most jazz historians view jazz
as the amalgamation of black, Creole, and European ingredients. By the time
Bix started to play professionally, there were as many white jazz musicians
as there were black. Moreover, Bix was playing a kind of jazz that was not
based on the blues, in contrast with some of the jazz played by black
musicians. Additionally, Bixs music and style were unique, they were his
own, distinctive creation.
Thus, it is incorrect to state, as Mr. Steven Beiderbecke has, that
Bix was playing a black mans music. Bix was playing his own music.
Assertion # 3. He [Bix] alienated himself from his family and white
friends because color was secondary to his passion: the music.
The documented record (interviews of his fellow musicians) shows
conclusively that Bix had many personal friends, all white musicians and
that he was universally liked by his friends and acquaintances. As far as
alienation from his family, there has been some discussion of this aspect of
Bixs relations, but there is no basis in fact. We know that whenever Bix
needed help in recuperating from his excessive drinking, his family was
always ready to welcome him home in Davenport. There are also
well-documented instances where the family provided financial assistance to
Bix whenever he needed it.
Thus, Mr. Steve Beiderbecke story of alienation is pure fiction.
We finally come to Mr. Steve Beiderbeckes accusations. There was
lack of both ethnic and musical diversity in the 2003 Bix festival. The
ethnic aspect applied to both performers and audience. This clearly shows
Mr. Steve Beiderbekes ignorance of the current jazz scene. I want to point
out that in the last month there were two concerts in New York City
dedicated to celebrating Bixs 100th birthday. I attended both concerts. The
first one was organized by Randy Sandke and Richard Sudhalter, two of the
most respected jazz musicians and scholars. The second was organized by Dick
Hyman, well-known pianist and music director. [Mr. Hyman is in charge of the
soundtrack music in Woody Allen's films]. The total number of musicians
playing in the two concerts was probably of the order of 40. Only one of
them was black . The Ascona Jazz Festival (Switzerland) for 2003 was
entitled Bixology in honor of Bixs 100th birthday. There were more than
hundred musicians from all over the world, including a large contingent of
American musicians. The overwhelming majority of performers and attendants
(numbering in the thousands) were white. This is a fact of the current jazz
scene. The overwhelming majority of musicians and lovers of traditional jazz
are white. I can only think of one jazz band that plays traditional jazz and
is composed entirely of black musicians and that is the Preservation Hall
Jazz band from New Orleans. Anyone who has visited New Orleans and attended
Preservation Hall will notice that most, if not all, the audience in the
Hall is white.
Thus, it is a fact of the current jazz scene that players and
listeners of traditional jazz are mostly white. Mr. Steve Beiderbecke said
he was disappointed not to see any minorities performing among the 11 jazz
bands and little diversity in the audiences. He may be disappointed but his
observation is simply a reflection of the current state of affairs as it
pertains to traditional jazz. There is nothing that organizers of
traditional jazz festivals can do presently. I note also that the lack of
diversity applies to ethnic as well as to age and sex considerations. The
large majority of traditional jazz fans are middle age and older white
males. Perhaps, educational programs starting in elementary schools could
change this by bringing minorities and young people into the current
traditional jazz community. But that would be a long-range goal.
Finally, I would like to address the suggestion by Mr. Steve
Beiderbecke that festival organizers should modernize the jazz music to
attract more youth to the concerts. That suggestion shows a lack of
understanding of the essence of Bixs contribution to jazz and of the
musical preferences of jazz fans. The jazz fan community is sharply divided
according to jazz styles. Trying to attract a younger audience to
traditional jazz festivals by bringing modern jazz would simply alienate the
traditional jazz lovers. Moreover, Bix found the vehicle for expressing his
musical genius in the 1920s traditional jazz and hot dance band milieu.
Tributes and celebrations of Bixs music must be cast within that same
genre. Any attempts to bring other styles of jazz would represent a betrayal
of Bixs musical legacy.
From: rich johnson [mailto:bixnme at excite.com]
Hi fellow jazz lovers.
Would you please click on the following, which is Quad City
Times newspaper site, and then click on the article, "Bix kin critical of
Q/C jazz festival."
I would be interested in hearing your opinion.
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