Bix Beiderbecke

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Many people know the legend of Bix, the pioneering cornet player who lived hard and died young (at 28), and his crystalline tone and unique melodic and harmonic sense are even better than the legend. However you have to be careful when discovering this for yourself, because much of his playing is buried within appalling 1920s pop music which could put you off for life; if you were young back then, then recordings like ‘Felix the Cat’ might hold a certain nostalgia value for you, I suppose, but otherwise you really do have to be a big Bix fan to endure this stuff just for his very brief solos. So to start with, at least, go for the popular compilations which focus on his major jazz recordings. I have a particularly good one on the Jazz Portraits label, called Inspired by the motion Picture “Bix”, Leon Bismarck “Bix” Beiderbecke, which includes most of the classics you need to hear, such as ‘Singin’ the Blues’ and his piano composition ‘In a Mist’. The last track on this compilation, ‘I’ll be a friend with pleasure’, is particularly interesting. It was one of his final recordings, and when the jazz really cuts loose, with Bix leading and Gene Krupa bashing away on the drums, it’s like they’ve suddenly been let off the leash. The biography of Bix by Sudhalter, Evans and Dean-Myatt (Bix: Man and Legend) is one of the two best book about jazz I’ve ever read; the other is Straight Life by Art Pepper. Once you've read that and get really serious about Bix (as I did), then you'll want to get into the amazing Bix Restored series (volumes 1-4; there is a volume 5 but it's only for completists).
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