The Facts Report on 1999 Festival  Report on 2000 Festival  Report on 2001 Festival  Report on 2002 Festival  Report on 2003 Festival 
The Beginning of the Society


The Facts.
    The Society, a non-profit organization located in Davenport, Iowa, Bix's hometown, has the goal of preserving and honoring the memory of Bix's musical genius.
    The most important activity of the Society, The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, takes place every year during the last weekend of the month of July. The festivals began in 1972 and have taken place every year without interruption, even in 1995, the year of the big floods in the midwest. (LeClaire Park, one of the main venues of the festival, is located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river and was under water). Several bands and fans from all over the world gather to keep the memory of Bix alive and to celebrate his musical contributions to jazz.
  Bix Notes, the official publication of the society, is sent to all members three times a year. It contains detailed information about the festival - the bands, the schedule, application forms.
    The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society office is located in the Kahl building, 311 N. Ripley St. Davenport, IA, 52802. Their web site is at

Report on the 1999 Festival.
    The festival consisted of three distinct types of events: the jazz festival where ten bands played in four venues, the Saturday morning concert at Bix's graveside, and the Sunday morning liturgy at the First Presbyterian Church.

    Although the idea of of a yearly gathering in Davenport, Iowa, Bix's hometown, had been  discussed in the early fifties and in the sixties, it was not until 1971 that the idea took root. In the early 50's, it was Bing Crosby, Hoagy Carmichael, Dave Garroway (the host of NBC's Today show in those days) and Eston Spurrier who suggested a yearly tribute to Bix, but the proposal did not prosper. In the 60's, jazz musician Robert Stover in conjunction with the Davenport Chamber of Commerce tried to obtain financial support for a tribute, but there was little interest on the part of potential backers. The break came in 1971 when the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey went to Davenport for the anniversary of Bix's death. Beginning in 1965, every year, Bill Donahoe, business man, Bix fan extraordinaire, and washboard player, invited friends and jazz musicians from around the Northeast to his home in Long Valley, New Jersey, to play in celebration of Bix's musical legacy. Bill Donahoe called his yearly gathering the "Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Stomp". Bix's nephew, Richard Bix Beiderbecke, who lived in Davenport at the time, attended the annual gatherings. At these gatherings, there was often talk about going to Davenport and play at  Bix's graveside. As a matter of fact, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Bix's death, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra had gone to Davenport and played in Oakdale Cemetery, next to Bix's place of rest. Bill Donahoe had the idea of doing the same in 1971, for the 40th anniversary. Thus, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey was formed, originally on "a-one-time-only" basis, to play in Oakdale Cemetery. Bill Barnes (cornet player, and at the time the leader of the Southhampton Dixie Racing and Clambake Society; Bill is currently with Rick Fay's band in Walt Disney World, Florida) was instrumental in putting the band together. Bill Donahoe got in touch with Richard Bix and with Bill Allred (a local jazz musician and leader of the Davenport Jazz Band) and asked their help with the project. Other local musicians/jazz aficionados who helped were Esten Spurrier (cornet player and close friend of Bix's) and Don O'Dette (cornet player, first president of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, and son of Jim O'Dette who played with Bix before he left Davenport). Arrangements were made and in the morning of August 6, 1971, exactly forty years after Bix's death, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band from New Jersey played at Bix's graveside. The musicians, all from the New Jersey-New York area, and their instruments were: Joe Ashworth (C-melody sax), Bill Barnes (cornet), Bill Donahoe (washboard), John Gill (banjo), John Schober (clarinet), Chuck Slate (drums), Skip Strong (trombone), and Bill Taggart (tuba).  The local antique car enthusiasts provided transportation for the members of the band, newspaper and television reporters covered the story. In addition to Esten Spurrier and Don O'Dette,  Doc Ryker, who had played with Bix in the Jean Goldkette Orchestra in 1926/27, Les Swanson, who had played with Bix in the Trave O'Hearn Orchestra in 1929 in Davenport, and Julius Marigold, who had attended Lake Forest Academy with Bix in 1921/22, were present. Robert Cooke, the musician's union president, placed on Bix's grave a floral wreath with the words "Bix Lives, Our Most Famous Member". According to the New York Times with a dateline of Davenport, Iowa, August 7, 1971: "Jazz buffs and musicians wearing "Bix Lives" buttons toasted the jazz immortal Bix Beiderbecke, with early morning champagne and the "Davenport Blues" -the song he wrote for his hometown - over his grave here today. More than 1,500 people gathered before the simple headstone in the Beiderbecke family plot to honor the trumpeter and composer on the fortieth anniversary of his death at age 28 on August 6, 1931." In his account of the visit, Jerry Verbel, who accompanied the band to Davenport, writes: "Solemnly, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band did what it came to do. The throbbing and quietly joyous melody that is "Davenport Blues" blanketed Oakdale Cemetery. As the final note drifted away, John Gill (banjo) of Whitestone, Long Island, and a member of the Smith Street Society whispered, "Amen"." In the afternoon, the band visited the Davenport Public Library where there was a Bix display and a special event. The original tapes of the nineteen  half-hour radio shows (which were to be broadcast later in the year on NPR) prepared by John Grover for his Masters' degree at Miami University were presented to the Library. Later in the afternoon  the band played aboard a Mississippi excursion boat. In the evening the band was scheduled to jam in the basement of the Davenport Holiday Inn together with a local jazz group, the Davenport Jazz Band. The response to the jam session was unprecedented. Hundreds of people showed up, the parking lot of the Inn filled up in no time, and people were forced to park on the highway and walk to the Inn as the local police directed traffic. The attendants were so enthusiastic, that the bands had to jam until the early hours of the morning. This extraordinary event was covered extensively in major U.S. and European newspapers, in magazines (the Mississippi Rag published two long features) and on television. Although the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey had been created for a "one-time-only" appearance, their triumph in Davenport and the associated publicity led to additional performances in major jazz festivals in the U.S. (they returned several times to Davenport to play at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival; for several years they play for the Potomac River Jazz Club in connection with their celebration of Bix's birthday) and in Europe, and to enormously successful  recordings (their first LP album sold out in less than one hour in Breda, Holland in 1978). In spite of its popularity and its high level of musicianship, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band was paid $1.00 and expenses for its appearances. Clearly, these wonderful musicians were totally dedicated to the preservation of Bix's musical legacy: there was no question of personal profit - it was a labor of love. Let us not forget that Bill Donahoe keeps a clock in his home permanently stopped at 9:30, the exact time of Bix's death on August 6, 1931.
    In view of the phenomenal success of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey, it became apparent that the idea of a yearly festival in honor of Davenport's famous citizen was feasible. Thus, not long after the concert at Bix's grave site and the legendary jam session, a local entrepreneur, Jim Patten, and two local jazz enthusiasts, Don O'Dette and Charles Peart got together and founded the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, the purpose of which was to host a yearly Jazz Festival to preserve and honor Bix's musical legacy. Additional plans called for the establishment of scholarships for young jazz musicians, the building of a memorial in LeClaire Park, and the purchase of Bix's childhood home on Grant Avenue to be turned into a museum dedicated to Bix. The first two goals were fulfilled. More than $35,000 have been granted in scholarships and a bust of Bix was erected in the park, together with engraving of quotes from the great jazz musicians Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Whiteman (see photographs of these items)  The third goal was not realized. However, the house fell into good hands. Bix's house, now under restoration, was purchased by the Avati brothers, who directed and produced the film Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.
    Finally, it is worthy of note that Bill Donahoe and the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey went back to Davenport in 1996, on the occasion of the 25th Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.  As many as possible of the original musicians (Joe Ashworth, Bill Barnes and Bill Donahoe) who played in 1971 came back for an encore, "one more time", and those that could not make it were replaced by Richard Barron (drums), Noel Kaletsky (reeds), Rick Knittel (trombone), Bill Lezotte (banjo), Mike Swanson (tuba) and Tex Wyndham (piano). The Iowa Public Television recorded the LeClaire Park performances of the bands at the 25th festival. The video tape, available from IPTV, includes one of the sets performed by the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey 25 years after they first performed in Davenport.
    The original appearance, "one time only", of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band of New Jersey on August 6, 1971 can be identified as the singular event responsible for the creation of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society and the Annual Jazz Festival that perpetuates the music and memory of Bix. Bixophiles from all around the world owe a great debt of gratitude to Bill Donahoe.

Additional information can be found in an article by Jim Arpy in  "Bix, The Leon Bix  Beiderbecke Story", by Phil and Linda Evans, in "Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey: The Dorsey Years", by Herb Sanford, in an article by Jerry Verbel for the Leisure West News in January 1998 (the article was reprinted in the March 1998 issue of the Jersey Jazz Magazine and in the July/August issue of Jazz Me News), in an article by John S. Wilson for the Sunday, October 28, 1973 edition of he New York Times and in an article by Kathleen McCarthy in
This section could not have been written without the invaluable help of Bill Donahoe and  Jim (Hugh) Donahoe. I acknowledge with appreciation their advice and support. I am greatly indebted to Bill Donahoe for the loan of precious material from his personal collection.

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A Brief Biography  Articles in Magazines The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society
Bix's Musical Genius Video Tapes  Items of Special Interest
Biographies Audio Tapes Information of Related Interest
Chapters in Books Museums A Stamp for Bix in 2003
Scholarly Dissertations Miscellaneous Links to Related Sites
Obituaries Readers' Queries and Remarks Celebration of Bix's Musical Legacy

The Original 78's
Analysis of Some Recordings: Is It Bix or Not ?
Complete Compilations of Bix's Recordings
Tributes to Bix
Miscellaneous Recordings Related to Bix
In A Mist