"IN A MYTH"

A series of columns about Bix by
guest contributor Tom Pletcher.

Jazz music is a heritage for Tom Pletcher. His grandfather, Thomas M. Pletcher, was a leader in the piano roll industry in the 1920s. His company, QRS, employed such jazz luminaries as James P. Johnson, "Fats" Waller, and others of stride style piano.Tom's father was "Stew" Pletcher, trumpet soloist with the orchestras of Tony Pastor, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo/Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, and others. While growing up around jazz musicians, it wasn't until Tom happened upon one of his father's original 78 records -Frank Trumbauer's recording of "Baltimore" and "Humpty Dumpty" featuring Bix Beiderbecke- that Tom decided to take up the cornet to perpetuate the style of Bix.

In the decades since, Tom has performed at festivals, concerts and clubs throughout the United States, Australia, Europe, and England. For 17 years, he was the principal cornetist for the "Sons of Bix" band which originated in Chicago in 1973. He has recorded for Jazzology, Fairmont, RCA, Swaggie, Circle, Wolverine, Taylor, Teaspoon, Stompoff, and Arbors. In 1990, he was chosen to play the soundtrack role of Beiderbecke in the Italian film "Bix, An Interpretation of A Legend" which featured Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern and others.

Tom is a founding member of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, and appeared at several of the early Bix Jazz Festivals in Davenport, IA, with such notables as Bill Rank, Wingy Manone, Spiegle Willcox, Bill Challis, Chauncey Morehouse, Doc Ryker, and Paul Mertz.

In November 2003, Tom organized and led the Bix Centennial Band aboard the Bix 100th Birthday Cruise.

In the summer of 2004, his CD "If Bix Played Gerswhin," Arbors Records 19283  was issued. This was reviewed by Albert Haim in the October issue of Mississippi Rag. The review can be read by clicking here.

"IN A MYTH."  Part I: “Cloudy.”

    Thanks entirely to the dedication and sincerity of Albert Haim and his immense web site, I have this opportunity to express my concerns and opinions regarding allegations made by persons claiming inside information about Bix Beiderbecke which do not hold up. In this first instalment, I wish to present my case as it relates to Indiana songwriter/musician Charlie Davis. Bix fans know of Davis after seeing the Berman CBC documentary entitled “Bix. Ain’t None of Them Play Like him Yet”. (Playboy Jazz DVD PBV 9043)

CLOUDY.

In the filmed interview, Davis, while reminiscing about his brief encounters in 1924 with Bix and the Wolverines, remembers the following: “I remember Bix played (piano) a tune I had never heard, before or since, but I recorded it in my own mind. I remember he was a great man to play on the black keys. He was a black key man …”

    Sorry Charlie but Bix was anything BUT a black key man. That fact was clearly established while Bix was alive. He played piano in C and F, as other self-taught players prefer or are most familiar. All of Bix’s piano pieces are in concert C. He recorded “For No Reason At All In C” with Trumbauer and Lang. There was a very good reason: Bix’s limitation at the piano.

    “Cloudy” a nostalgic piece made up of a simple melody and block chords has no typical Bixian runs or extended or impressionistic chords so associated with Bix. Nor did anyone with whom I knew and consulted ever hear this piece until Davis’s on camera rendition.

    That Charlie Davis should have been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance does have merit, in my opinion. During the years 1973-92, I was in failry close company with the following men who were associated with Bix during his brief life. They were Bill Challis, Paul Mertz, Bill Priestley, Esten Spurrier, Bill Rank. Other fellow contemporary Bixians were Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft, James “Rosy” McHargue, Joe Rushton, with whom I shared the passion. Researcher friends have included Philip Evans and Norman Gentieu. Not one of the guys who viewed and heard Davis perform, thought “Cloudy” was Bix’s composition nor did anyone hear Bix play a piece resembling Davis’s rendition for the documentary. That Charlie wanted to be remembered as a Bix sympathizer is obvious and the film gave him his last moment in the sun and opportunity for immortality along with Bix. Sorry again Charlie.

    Regarding Davis’s claim about Bix having several tones and that “the girls liked his dirty tone”, give me a break! Listen to anything Bix recorded and tell me when you hear anything except that clear sound that only Bix got, even when he had to play into a mute. Incidentally, the above film rendition of “Cloudy” is played in concert Db, a key which Bix and most other self taught and limited pianists would stay away from at all costs.

    My concerns are that Charlie Davis’s claims have already been accepted as fact and recorded by sincere and wonderful musicians as a further tribute to dear Bix.

    The late biographer/author Philip Evans devoted many early years of his fact-finding research into disproving and dispelling the many absurd rumors that had surfaced since Bix’s death. Now, I feel a duty and a need to speak out on suspect matters of conjecture and claims related to the legend of Bix.

    My next instalment of “In A Myth” will deal with Joe Venuti’s 50-year secret recollection of his collaboration with Bix on their so-called composition “Betcha I Getcha.
 
Uploaded July 5, 2004

Tom Pletcher welcomes replies from interested persons; however, he requests conventional mail. For Tom's address, please write to ahaim@bixography.com.  Alternatively, postings in the Bixography Forum are acceptable. These will be relayed to Tom.


 IN A MYTH.  Part II: “Betcha I Getcha.

    What might become a futile campaign to disprove various claims and allegations having to do with hitherto undiscovered BIX compositions, I wish now to discuss the Joe Venuti story about collaborating with Beiderbecke on a tune called "Betcha I Getcha". This revelation surfaced 30 years ago during a Venuti recording session (1973) during which time he played a piece on piano for Dick Hyman claiming that he and Bix worked it out together etc. Evidentiy, Hyman, believing Venuti to be telling the truth, got Venuti’s piano rendition on tape and transcribed and published the piece many years later in one of his own music books.

    I know Dick Hyman to be a very intelligent, honest, sincere and dedicated man and Bixophile who has lovingly showcased Bix’s music in many ways, the latest being his Arbors CD "If Bix played Gershwin" which Dick and I and his studio band recorded together only last year. Hyman clearly speculated on the validity of Venuti’s sudden claim, but it has since gained dangerous stature. Having grown up around many of the jazz greats of the 20s and 30s, of course I have heard many Venuti stories particularly about his wit, practical jokes, musical skills as well as his widely known reputation for stretching the truth especially if it might further his self image, ego and career. Without attempting to sugar coat his name, he was notorious for lying about his date of birth, place of birth and other matters about which he had personal knowledge. Additionally he was considered a very crude and vulgar man according to more sensitive persons such as other musicians wives who were not charmed by Venuti’s course persona. That he was "one of the boys" within the jazz circles is without question. That he was also the greatest hot violinist of the 20th century also wins my vote.  <>I have absolutely no doubts or suspicions of the intentions of these friends and great musicians in their presentations of what they want to believe are Bix discoveries.     However, having studied the subject of Bix and his music for 50 years as well as having known many of Bix’s closest musical associates, I feel entitled and compelled to question the authenticity of these latter day claims.

    Unfortunately, Joe Venuti’s unfounded image as a real friend of Bix was vastly inflated by a role played in the 1990 Italian film "Bix" in which Venuti, among other highlights, drives to Davenport for a personal visit and brings flowers to Agatha, Bix’s mother. Now that IS funny! Of course being an Italian made film, Venuti had to be shown in the most favorable light regardless of the actual truth. Additionally, this well meaning movie was subtitled "an interpretation of a legend" which allowed for the liberties taken with the                       Dick Hyman 
story. Again, I was honored to participate in the sound track of this film which received high praise by other musicians and knowledgeable critics.                                                                

    Giuseppe "Joe" Venuti was born in Philadelphia, not in Italy or on a ship bound for America as he claimed. The year of his birth was 1903, not 1899 or earlier. Before he died in 1978 at the age of 74, he was giving his age as 82 or 84 whatever he thought would make the boldest impression.

    Betcha I Getcha should never have been credited to Leon Bix Beiderbecke, especially on the word of Joe Venuti. Having now heard the 1945 version of this number featuring Kay Starr’s vocal, it is reminiscent of Ralph Flanagan’s popular hit "Hot Toddy" which I think was of similar vintage. Those who still wish to consider this tune as a lost musical treasure of Bix's are welcome to place it next to Charlie Davis’s "Cloudy" but they totally lack credibility. If anyone has more factual information on these pieces, please let me know about it.

    My expressed complaints as they relate to "discoveries" like these are not a matter of faulty research by believers but a simple matter of no research or scholarship at all!

    Bix’s life, legend and documented works are worthy of respect and proper preservation now and forever after. Having recently had the occasion of celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth, this is no time to see inventions credited to him when there is no proof, only disproof.

    In part III of "In a Myth," I will write about what some of the better jazz musicians thought about Bix’s selling out by joining Paul Whiteman in 1927. That being a captive of that band was not unlike a good paying "day gig" for Bix with insufficient inspiration or opportunities to play the kind of music be loved and then with only a token number of fellow jazz players on the band.

Uploaded September 14, 2004.

Tom Pletcher welcomes replies from interested persons; however, he requests conventional mail. For Tom's address, please write to ahaim@bixography.com.  Alternatively, postings in the Bixography Forum are acceptable. These will be relayed to Tom. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Joe "Four-String" Venuti                                                                       


IN A MYTH.  Part III: The King of Jazz.
     
    In Southern California during the 1950s, I got to hang around with my father's jazz friends, especially the musicians who had known Bix personally and had heard him play in after hours places where he was in his element.  A trumpet player I knew very well was Martin Harold Peppie, 1902-1986.  “Pep” had a long career beginning in 1924 as Ben Pollack’s original  (1st) trumpet player.  He was later with Jan Garber, ‘26, Lanin’s Ipana Troubadors ‘27 and numerous Lanin NYC record dates before moving to Hollywood and spending the next several decades in film studio orchestras.  Peppie told me many personal stories about Bix when they were jamming after hours.  Such as Bix losing his pivot tooth on dingy speakeasy floors, having to get on your hands and knees sifting through the spit covered saw dust and peanut shells searching for the cap  (pivot) that covered Bix’s broken front tooth.  I heard that as a boy, Bix tripped on the front steps at 1934 Grand Ave, which resulted in the dental problem.  “Pep” said you had to really love Bix to volunteer for such a chore.  Of course the gang was always pretty lubricated so they didn’t mind it as much.  He went on to say that Bix was often gracious in offering to switch to piano so he could join in on his trumpet.  At the same time he also remembered Bix being able to continue playing piano long after his beverage of choice (gin) had taken its toll on his horn playing ability.  Peppie was only one of many jazz musicians who told me how the guys went into mourning when they heard Bix had joined Whiteman.  My father Stewart Pletcher (1907 -1978) was around Plunketts in those days when not studying at Yale University and he and other musicians and Bix fans were equally brought down about losing Bix to commercialism that early (1927).   Now, in this 21st century, researchers, scholars, and new listeners are getting contrary information about Bix and his career with Whiteman as told by less informed authorities.  PW’s elephantine orchestra has erroneously become named as the band Bix was so happy and proud to be on.  Philip R. Evans, (1935-1999) highly esteemed biographer was invited to attend several Whiteman reunion parties in Los Angeles c 1960s during which time he gathered personal information about Bix and the band.  There is little doubt that Whiteman’s former sidemen would have spoken in glowing terms about the band and Bix’s tenure, which Evans respected.  It should be realized that most of PW's men were legit.  non jazz musicians commonly referred to as “squares”.  These sincere but biased sources have contributed to this misunderstanding.  The number of real jazz musicians employed by “The King of Jazz” could be counted on fewer than two hands.  Most were former Goldkette personnel and previously associated with Bix and Trumbauer.  

    There were others who not only did not understand or appreciate what Bix was doing but resented and scorned him over his poor musicianship skills, undependability and special attention.  Try to imagine what it must have been like for Bix during rehearsals, recordings and performances when he failed to play certain written parts correctly or was too hung over to play well.  To the non-drinkers on the band, Bix was probably no joy to be around.  So why did he join PW instead of going with another jazz group after Goldkette and Rollini’s New Yorkers?  My theory is this:  Bill Challis and Frank Trumbauer were security blankets. So was Bill Rank.  They appreciated him and covered for his shortcomings.  Contrary to what we hear about Bix being able to read, he never was able to sight read well or even know how to properly mark his parts.  Bill Challis told me these things.  Also that he would write Bix “footballs” just to give him something to do and to keep his horn warm.  A football is a slang term for a whole note.  Can you imagine how humiliating this must have been?

     Notice in the long lost 1928 Fox Movietone film what part Bix played on “My Ohio Home”.  He stands to play about 4 repeat notes throughout a 16 bar bridge and even sits down before the end of the last measure.  Bix was obviously never very interested in reading music.  The stories by his sister about his early teachers telling the family they couldn’t teach the boy anything because he played his lessons back to them, with improvements.  The St. Louis symphony trumpet player who is reported to have told Bix he felt like a canary in a cage in comparison to Bix’s “God given” gift.  All these stories are part of the legend; however what has been ignored is Bix’s lack of discipline, ambition and responsibility to learn to read and write as all the other professionals did.  This proved to be Bix’s down fall and early demise.

      Though a self taught amateur, I  personally can relate to what it must have been like for Bix to be in situations where his ignorance  would be exposed.  I never bothered to learn to read music and to this day am always the only illiterate on a reading band.  I’ve been able to memorize parts because arrangers and leaders have given me advance time to “woodshed”.  Bix took parts to Challis for help before having to perform.  Bill said he never let him down.  That is, unless Bix was having bad days which we know he had with increasing frequency after 1928.

     Furthermore, Bix would have avoided taking chances of humiliation and embarrassment by exposing his weaknesses with a less tolerant reading band like Pollack, Goodman, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Casa Loma, and others where he probably wouldn’t get such special treatment. Consider that Red Nichols and Bunny Berigan both played for PW briefly but merely as stepping stones to enhancing their resumes and experience.  Red and Bunny had all the necessary tools to move on to better jazz employment.  Bix did not.

     Then consider all the tunes recorded by PW 1928-29 which included Bix.  How do you suppose he felt sitting through such trite material as “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”, “La Paloma”, “Oh Ya Ya”, “Dolly Dimples”, “Chloe”.  And then there were the concert performances.... Wilbur Hall playing a bicycle tire pump... endless renditions of “Rhapsody in Blue” until everyone was turning blue with boredom.  Even some of Challis's arrangements featuring Bix were corny compared to the same tunes played by real jazz orchestras.  Hear Whiteman’s “Sugar”.  Poor Bix had to try to make something out of the march tempo so typical of the Whiteman style.  Sorry, but I believe Bix was wasted sitting in that band.  Whiteman’s generosity, the fringe benefits, record dates, continued association with Trumbauer was all well and good but drove Bix to seek more after hour places where he could play his kind of music but also drink more and later each night and then have to be up for the next day of travel or record date.  Bix’s happiest days had to be when he was on the Goldkette band.  Besides having a swinging rhythm section for solos, he was allowed to find his own harmonic 3rd parts in the brass section and ride over the ensemble out choruses as he wished.  Even then, what a tragedy that this wonderful band was forced to record mostly trite commercial crap.  Again, if you scrutinize the library of Goldkette’s recorded works, much of it is pretty bad and was considered as such when it came out. *

     It is regrettable to me that bands today are recreating the same vastly dated material which was an embarrassment to the musicians who were on the original records.  How about those insipid and enforced vocals such as “Idolizing” and “I’d Rather Be the Girl in Your Arms”?   Insiders jokingly referred to alternate lyrics to the 1926 male vocalist Frank Bessinger’s version as “I’d rather be the boy in your pants, than the girl in your arms”.

     Jazz groups, especially white ones were stifled by the so-called authorities (A & R) record company executives who directed what material was recorded with little regard for good taste or what had made the jazz bands and soloists popular with listeners.  The Goldkette band was only one of many who had few of their best numbers recorded.  My father was trumpet soloist on Red Norvo’s 1936-7 Orchestra.  The brilliant Eddie Sauter was principal arranger but Pletcher contributed more than a dozen of his own arrangements which were good enough to be played on coast to coast radio shows!  This band was, in the 1930s, what Goldkette was in the 20s.  They were a sensation according to the best jazz musicians both black and white.  Yet, only a few of their better numbers got recorded. *

     At least the black bands did not suffer the same fate, as their recordings were directed to the jazz minded mostly black listeners and record buyers who rejected the commercial corn marketed to the white general public.

     In summary, Bix managed to provide us with more than enough great recorded examples of himself showcasing the passion and hotness of his horn in spite of the conditions under which he and others were subjected, especially when with PW.

     In Part IV of In A Myth, I will write about the subject of who plays what on the recordings that included both Bix and Andy Secrest...and other recordings erroneously identified as Bix.

*For further examples of enforced trite material, please refer to any alphabetical list of recorded tunes by these otherwise wonderful jazz orchestras.  Then compare to the tunes the bands preferred to play.

Uploaded October 12, 2004.

Tom Pletcher welcomes replies from interested persons; however, he requests conventional mail. For Tom's address, please write to ahaim@bixography.com.  Alternatively, postings in the Bixography Forum are acceptable. These will be relayed to Tom.

IN A MYTH.  Part IV: Who's Who.

    A friend of mine, the late Englishman John R. T. Davies, multi-instrumental jazz musician and sound restoration pioneer was questioned once about the equipment he used to determine the best sound quality. He said, "I believe they're called ears." That's the best response I can give for my evidence on knowing Bix from all the rest of us who have attempted to sound like him at different times and places. Perhaps because my 68 year-old ears have been listening so long, I feel very qualified to write about the subject.

    For this particular aural review, reissued CDs provide the easiest way to listen and analyze the recordings that included both Bix and Andy Secrest. There are 2 sources I strongly recommend. Mosaic MD7-211, “Complete Okeh and Brunswick Beiderbecke, Trumbauer, Teagarden Sessions” Disc III, IV. Origin Jazz Library “Bix Restored” Vol. V. By watching the digital
                                                                                                                             J.R.T. Davies
                                                                                                                               1927-2004
display during each play, refer to the minutes and seconds when either Bix or Andy are heard playing the lead or a solo part. For non-musicians, this eliminates having to count measures or understand song formats such as verse/chorus/bridge etc.

    Andy Secrest (1907-77) was hired by the Whiteman organization early in 1929 as a back up and fill in for Bix, who was already into his tragic decline at the ripe old age of 26. Cornetist Secrest made some decent recordings with Trumbauer during and after Bix dropped out on the Okeh dates in Spring, 1929.
 
FUTURISTIC RHYTHM (Take B, March 8, 1929).
At: 04 of intro, Secrest plays pick up notes into sax ensemble. After Tram's “Bullwinkle” style vocal, @ 1:30, Bix solos. After Rank's bridge, Bix @ 1:59-2:07. Secrest lead at 2:09 (clinker @ 2:24) Bix probable lead 2:39. “Shakes” were written into both brass and reed parts on bridge of out chorus. Shakes aka splits are over used “jazzy” oscillations made by some trumpet and cornet players which exaggerate a normal vibrato. This should not be confused with a controlled trill which is heard in certain classical works for trumpet. A split note or shake requires no particular skill or sensitivity to execute. Likewise this was a sound effect Bix did not normally use and must have been somewhat distracting especially with Secrest noticeably over blowing (louder) his part.
 
RAISIN' THE ROOF (Take D, March 8, 1929).
Bix leads first ensemble and solo: 26-:36 Secrest takes lead at 1:56-2:20. Bix @ 2:21-2:31 Secrest leads @ 2:33 (another shake) to end when @ 2:55 a loud “clam” is heard. The bad note sounds like one of the cornets! Incidentally, the origin of the slang term “clam” has been credited to Bix by numerous fellow musicians who said they heard him use it before anyone else picked up the term. Clambake etc.
 
LOUISE (Take B, April 17, 1929).
Four- bar intro Bix @ :06-18. Secrest lead :45-:56 and 2 horn 8 bar bridge. After Ballew vocal, Tram, Izzy, Secrest @ 2:38 and lead out with Bix over blowing uncharacteristic high Cs over the ensemble. It sounds as though Bix might have had a few bracers between takes.
<>
WAIT TILL YOU SEE “MA CHERIE”
(Take C, April 17, 1929).
After a verse a la Venuti-Lang by Quinn and Malneck, @ :28 Tram plays a loose melody and one of his trademark musical “comments” at :044 into the track. He hoots through his horn like... why are we having to do 3 takes on a number like this? Tram and Bix had ways of expressing their frustrations or disapproval during recording session and this was one of Tram's funniest expressions. After Ballew's fine vocal, Secrest takes pick up notes @ 2:00 and ensemble lead. At 2:07-2:13 Bix plays 4 bars into a mute (probably metal derby). Secrest resumes lead @ 2:14 with Bix next 4 bars at 2:19-2:24 and sounding somewhat flushed as on end of “Louise”. After Izzy, @ 2:35 Secrest lead out over inaudible Bix. Perhaps during final 15 seconds of track, Bix was already packing up. Sorry, that's a joke.
 
BABY WON'T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (Take C, April 17, 1929).
This recording has resulted in decades of speculation and review so I hope the following diminishes the confusion.
After 4 bar intro, Bix plays lead :06 to: 32. Then Andy, sounding most typically like himself at :33 -: 59. It's Bix ONLY behind Tram's vocal in and out of what sounds to me like a metal derby as on “Louise”. This would produce different tones every few measures and might have generated some of the confusion about who is playing and when. Metal (brass plated) derbys were part of jazz and dance orchestra trumpet sections. They were most prominent when sections were required to stand and do the wa wa bits for stage effect as well as tonal shading. When attached to a music stand, it allowed the player to blow into the derby hands free such as Bix might have done on these numbers. My father had a metal derby with which I experimented during my earliest years of trying to play my $5. cornet in tune. Bix, while not a mute lover seemed to enjoy getting that juggy sound, especially if covering up any tonal impurities he was starting to hear in 1929. Following Tram's solo, Bix echoes his last phrase in his own opening 2 bars at 1:59 in a lyrical salute to Frank. I think Bix and Tram wrote the book on this kind of exchange. It was seldom done by others then or later, but the idea is still employed by a few of the sophisticated jazz players in this century. At 2:15 of Bix's muted solo he throws in stacatto (cut) notes reminiscent of clarinetist Jimmie Noone. It is conceivable that Bix and other horn players of the Chicago style borrowed this phrasing from Noone. Secrest @ 2:36 pick ups and lead with Bix noodling into a mute behind Andy's lead out. Got that?
 
NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR PLACE (Take B, April 30, 1929)
Here's another FT date with the musicians vocalist Ballew singing as though he wrote the tune. Smith was regarded by some in the business as Bing's equal in those days and had some distinct advantages over Crosby with matinee idol good looks and a towering physique. After the string intro, it sounds like Bix timidly reading the lead part. Andy plays the counter phrase at :17 and again at :29. After Bill Rank's lovely bridge, both Bix and Andy play 2 horn harmony. Bix and Andy harmonize at 1:07 with the second horn (Andy?) in the low register. Bix comes in at 2:39 (bridge) blowing his soul into either the metal derby or more likely a felt hat, which was easy to pack and produced a soft sound as heard here. Bix finished his solo by ripping up to a high A and the lead out with no audible Secrest. Bix's use of a 6th in the last 2 bars @ 3:05 is totally evocative of the classical impressionists such as Frederick Delius or Maurice Ravel.
 
I LIKE THAT (Take C, April 30, 1929).
Secrest lead to :26. Bix open horn :27-:36 Bix solos at 1:16-1:37 and 1:48-1:58 probably into felt hat and not sounding like he was about to quit doing anymore of Tram's record dates. Secrest had a rather flat footed style of phrasing and is heard playing slightly flat (out of tune) at times which was another give away... Bix a striker of notes, Andy a honker. After Bix's solo, Secrest (flat) takes pick up notes at 2:06-2:09 followed by the shuffle rhythm 8 bar bridge, a carryover from the dance step and tune entitled The Baltimore. c 1927
 
    In summary, these Trumbauer recordings, especially if listened to closely and preferably into a decent headset, demonstrate clearly the vast differences between Bix's tone, phrasing and ideas and anyone else then or since. Likewise they demonstrate the style of Andy Secrest. I regret I never met Secrest all the years I lived in Los Angeles, California where he lived out his life. In the last years before he died I spoke with him a few times on the telephone about him being the obvious soloist on PWs “Waiting At The End Of The Road” Take 8, the issued take. In confirming to me that he WAS the soloist, he went on to tell me the details leading up to Bix's inability to play after take 7 of that number. Of course Bix never recorded with PW again and began the road to deep depression and death less that 24 months later.
 
    As for other recordings having Bixian solos such as Marion McKay's 1924 “Doo Wacka Doo” which the late researcher Warren Plath proved was Leroy Morris, not Bix; Dick McDonough's 1929 “Broadway Rose” which was Bob Mayhew, not Bix; and any others -the March 3, 1928 Lou Raderman session ("Oh Gee! Oh Joy!," "Why Do I Love You" and "Ol' Man River"), the January 24, 1929 Ray Miller session (two takes of "Cradle of Love")- my ears tell me that so far, none of the “sounds like Bix” are the man himself.
 
    We can look forward to the forthcoming issue of the authentic Bix/Tram alternates and keep hoping there will be other future discoveries. I wish to say that my favorite Bixian stylists were the Englishman Norman Payne and Davenporter Esten Spurrier. These loyalists definitely inspired me to continue to specialize in that style of playing.
 
PS This personal recollection about Andy Secrest might be of interest to some. In 1943-45 I was 6th bugler on Capt. Ayres Drum and Fife Band out of St. Paul Catholic School in Westwood. A gig's a gig! My dad was trumpet soloist with Jack Teagarden's Orchestra and I was immersed in the company of jazz musicians and loved every minute of it, even then as a grammar school kid. A weekly radio program we listened to at home was the Fibber McGee and Molly show. (30 minutes) The Billy Mills Orchestra usually got a feature at the half way spot in the shows and frequently featured a trumpet soloist I liked who my Dad said was a guy named Andy Secrest. He had a style and sound that was new to me.
    At that time, I only knew the name Bix Beiderbecke to be as composer of several piano pieces my father played for friends at after hour parties or just for himself through the years. Back then, he just overlooked informing me about the connection between Secrest and Bix. My discovery of Bix, the cornetist came several years later.
 
    In Part V of In A Myth, my topics will include the perpetuated myth about the unopened records sent home, the totally unsubstantiated claim by author Ralph Berton in his 1974 book, "Remembering Bix." Bix and the blues. The legend of the horn in the paper bag, the private (now published) letters sent home. Concerto in F and other latter day assertions.  

Uploaded November 6, 2004

IN A MYTH.  Part V: The “Unopened” Records and Concerto in F.

    In preparing my topics for Part V and reviewing just a fraction of what has already been discussed through Prof. Haim's Bix website, I realize my next topics are not going to be revelations but more of my own experiences of chasing after Bix during the last 50 years.

The "Unopened" Records.

    The saga of the unopened records has been eloquently discussed by such fine writers as Chris Beiderbecke, Malcolm Walton, Kim Manson and Albert Haim dated years ago! Obviously, I've overlooked this subject in the published books by Evans, Sudhalter and Berton which I thought I had read thoroughly more than once since they came out.

    After all the frequent visits I made to Davenport during the 1970s, I cannot recollect this mentioned by anyone I knew. Additionally, I still have a large box of personal letters from Phil Evans dating back years before, during and after his books were published. I have spent over a hundred personal hours with Esten Spurrier who told me so many hitherto unpublished anecdotes and little delights about the life and times of Leon. While I remember many conversations I had with Spurrier, especially on matters I asked about, never did he bring up the unopened records. Spurrier told me that he and Burnie had been fairly close friends at some time during their many years as fellow Davenporters. Spurrier was employed by a more prominent cemetery than Oakdale where Bix is buried and brother Burnie was "caretaker". I sensed that Spurrier was resentful of the Beiderbecke's rejection of Bix's jazz friends, like him, but it was understandable considering that they thought the jazz world was responsible for their boy's tragic death.

    My hunch about the records is this. I can believe that Bix sent a few records home. Also, that after 1929, when he was borrowing money from his parents, he hoped his meager 1930 output with Carmichael and others would impress them as he had little else going after Whiteman. That he sent ALL, MOST, or MANY home is more than a stretch of credibility.

    Bix was a lazy guy. He was not disciplined about anything including the condition of his person, his horn or his professional development. The unopened records story has obviously exceeded mythical proportions. It is regrettable that Bix and his parents are still under scrutiny over this when it only serves, as Chris Beiderbecke said, to "gain momentum with no authority" but such stories have "great dramatic value". Indeed.

    While browsing a marvelous Bix bibliography compiled by a good friend of mine, I came across a September 1936 issue of DOWN BEAT magazine in which an article appeared by the highly regarded Marshall Stearns on the subject of "Swing". He writes the following: "Recently, in going over Bix's private records, left untouched in his house at Davenport, I found practically the whole output of this band (NORK) for the records waxed by this group sold well, and spread its popularity all over the country, some of them selling as many as two hundred thousand copies".

    We can each speculate on this 1936 claim by Stearns and whether Bismark and Agatha ever invited him to go through their son's stuff whatever it was. Might this have begun the myth?

    Here's another one! ORCHESTRA WORLD Feb. 1938 SHADES OF BIX Davenport, Iowa -Late Bix Beiderbecke hailed from Davenport. His parents have just dusted off Bix's favorite cornet and had it cleaned and polished. Bix's nephew starts taking lessons shortly, and he'll use that famous horn.......Really now?
I wonder if anyone informed either of Bix's nephews of their promising future as the next Beiderbecke cornetist? This is just another of more than 200 questionable references to Bix in music trade periodicals 1923-99. Is it any wonder that Phil Evans faced a mountain of challenges in dispelling the myths and rumors. That he succeeded in separating so many facts from the fiction is important and remarkable.

    My humble contributions in this endeavor, are as an amateur musician who plays a cornet now and then and knew many of the persons on the scene who are now dead.

Concerto in F

    Another friend of mine, Norman P. Gentieu, 1914- has been deeply involved with this subject. Gentieu's credentials as a writer, editor, musician, researcher, are known within the inner circles. I am proud of having suggested Evans to consider using Gentieu's talents and interest when he and his wife Linda were contemplating doing their own last book on Bix. They were very compatible and the book is good proof.

    Through the decades of listening to Bix records, I must admit to very infrequent hearings of  Concerto in F, even the haunting second movement featuring the beautiful trumpet solo work. Having just browsed some of the discussion forum comments and there are widely diverse opinions, I will rely on my own ears as AURAL evidence.

    Playing an LP of the piece and using my primitive steam powered turntable, I hear this: The first and third trumpet passages are clearly Margulis. The second or middle part (Harmon muted) sounds like Goldfield trying to sound like Busse. Regarding the intonation problem, please be advised that a Harmon mute renders any trumpet or cornet out of tune (sharp). The instrument must be retuned, sometimes drastically in order to come down to A440 pitch. What makes me believe this middle was played by Goldfield?

1- Harry replaced Busse because he was able to mimic Busse's dated style, especially his "nanny". A nanny was a derogatory abbreviation for a nanny goat vibrato. Some old school horn men, especially trumpet players, used shaky vibratos like badges of honor. Busse's was one of the most famous. Ray Lodwig's was one of the worst sounding. Nannies were considered dated and corny by good jazz musicians as early as the mid 20s.

2 - The primary soloist (Margulis) got a timely rest until coming back to finish the third passage. The original arrangement called for Busse to play the middle part. To read that Roy Bargy and others claim Bix was featured or even audible on this 1928 recording is sort of incredible. 

    Finally, on the last repeat of this theme, near the end of the second movement, Mr. Gentieu and I hear the featured trumpet melody being
played by a reed instrument.... possibly oboe? Norman tells me that Chet Hazlett had substituted for Margulis on another recording date after numerous takes had tired out even the great Margulis lip and that Hazlett's oboe substitute worked well. It will be very interesting to listen to the Concerto in F on CD to reconfirm or change our present thinking about this part. I invite readers to listen and give their opinion.

    That Bix might have tackled Concerto in F a time or two during one of the many live performances is quite possible and would have been memorable to the musicians who witnessed it. Bix would not have needed Charlie's written parts. What a wonderful memory and legend of Bix's ability as a player, BUT ....not on the issued recording.   
    
    In the interest of shortening this column, I will save the other topics such as Ralph Berton, the horn in the paper bag, the letters and other
comments for the next installment.  

    I will say more here about the importance of knowing Gentieu since 1966. This youthful old man is the consummate researcher and scholar. He
specializes in accuracy and correctness. He is a lifelong Bixophile who was a close friend of both Bill and Evan Challis. He is an authority on Eastwood Lane, knew Lane's widow and plays and composes his own music for piano. He edited the entire Vol. I of Rayno's PW book, contributing important data and early photographic identification. He used to invite me to the "Bix Irregulars" lunches in NYC when I could be there. The last time I joined the boys for lunch, the group included both Challis brothers, Gentieu and special guest Francis "Cork" O'Keefe. He was the O'Keefe of Rockwell/O'Keefe.

    Owning or operating a computer is not a part of my life so I only show up on screens with other people's help. My hobbies include boating, maintaining my 46 year old PORSCHE, a back roads motorcycle, listening to music and occasionally practicing on my long suffering cornet. I played one gig this year with Dick Hyman and the Bix Plays Gershwin band in NYC. Next year I have another gig! I will be performing in Australia at the Bob Barnard Jazz Party in Melbourne, Victoria, April 15 -17.


Part VI of In a Myth will conclude this series.

Uploaded November  28 , 2004

IN A MYTH.  Part VI: The Coda.

    I
n this series, I have attempted to explain away some of the most common myths which have been given serious status through repetitive reviews
and critics columns. After getting a glimpse of the volume of chatter that goes on within this immense Bix web, I thought some of you would be interested in my non computer years of experiences as a Bix guy, music lover and musician.

    For the better part of the last half-century, I assumed there were never
more than a few of us who studied and appreciated Bix for his music. Now I realize there is more than a mere chat group of Bix addicts presenting an endless stream of subject matter on every aspect of his life. Perhaps a new slogan should be eBix Lives!

    Contrary to feeling left out or behind the times in this Internet world, I'm all the more grateful for having spent much of my spare hobby time listening to the music itself. The names I've proudly "dropped" within my previous columns were only a few of those with whom I listened, played the music and cherished every good note and chord coming from Bix.

BLUES

    I have seen a sampling of what has already been discussed by  contributors, a few of whom I actually know. I agree with a lot of what has been presented. For most of my life, I have gotten to mix with some of the best white and black musicians of the past century. To me and other jazz players, the typical 12-bar blues format is rather boring. It's entry level music. Rock and Roll and that genre has its roots in the standard blues. 

    Likewise in learning to play an instrument by ear, without written
music, the standard blues is a good start. In fact, "C Jam Blues" allows a fledgling player to avoid any sharps or flats while playing along with a recognizable jazz standard, of sorts. "Look Ma, no music". 

    My father and other jazz musicians with whom he associated took playing
the blues as a challenge to try to play something unusual or interesting. On a structure of 12 bars, sparse chord changes and usually monotonous lyrics if any, the blues commands the excitement of say..."The Saints". There are better platforms or song structures on which to improvise.

    Many renowned white jazz greats achieved remarkable results out of the
blues. Humorous, bawdy, barrelhouse, raucous, touching, outrageous, could be a few adjectives tacked on to good interpretations and concept of the blues.

    Example: Clarinetist Pee Wee Russell incorporated humor, vulnerability,
melancholy and sensitivity in his blues style which some mistook as technical ineptness. His associate, Bud Freeman regaled his admirers, as did Bunny Berigan, with their concepts of playing or "putting on the blues".

    Trombonist Jack Teagarden had such a deep feeling for the blues and
harmonic sophistication that he could summon emotional responses from his selection and manner of playing a single note of a song far removed from the blues as such. Bix, on the other hand, as a result of his family heritage and straight laced background must have chosen to avoid trying to "feel" the blues by emulating the down trodden. A musician's joke is that you cannot play the blues wearing a suit! Speaking of the blues, and the latter day spokesman for jazz, music, humanity and the universe, Wynton Marsalis cannot play the blues unless the lights are on and he can read them. Louis "Louie" Armstrong very definitely did have an affinity for the blues. And when he played or sang blues numbers, he expressed his feelings and understanding of the songs associated with the blues.

    I've recently seen lists of tunes Bix recorded that have "blues" in the titles. Authentic blues recordings (race records) were trendy in the early 20s and captured the interest and attention of a segment of the white general public. A barrage of material was composed and recorded under the guise of blues to capitalize on the craze and is still reflected in non blues music and performing groups today. Tunes with blues in the title are not necessarily blues at all!

SWING   

The term swing is another misnomer. Bestowed on jazz during the  depression by some music critic/writers as an ADJECTIVE, as though this was a new style of jazz, swing had previously been properly used in VERB form by aware jazz people to describe when the music was very rhythmic or hot. Then, the non-musician authorities declared a whole new breakthrough in jazz. Swing! Swing music, swing dancers, King of Swing, Mr. & Mrs. Swing. Jazz musicians who either swung or not, went along with the new trendy name and continued either swinging or trying to swing. Pletcher's analogy: If a pre "swing" band stunk, then the band must be a stink band, the dancers stink dancers, the musicians, stink musicians. See the absurdity? The blues have suffered nearly the same confusion and meaningless identity.

PAPER BAG   

Here's another myth like the unopened records that needs closure. Did Bix EVER carry his horn in a paper bag? Most likely he had occasion to conceal his horn in something when his case was elsewhere. Was a paper bag EVER his preferred method? Of course not. In his last years, (1930-31) he had a corduroy and cloth sack made for his Bach cornet which was easy to carry under his arm and less noticeable when walking into places where he was NOT a hired musician. Perhaps this "bag" might be where the paper bag story got its origin. Bix's black corduroy horn bag is still with his personal effects at Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

    Evidence of Bix with his horn in a standard hard case can be seen in any of several still photos c. 1924 as well as the later Horvath home movie excerpt where Bix is seen walking with his Conn Victor in a cornet case. Manufactured "gig" bags, which I have always favored, did not become available until decades later. To perpetuate the myth that Bix carried his horn around in a paper bag              belongs with the others.                                                           Bix and Don Murray, 1926, Bronx Zoo


                                                                                                                                            RALPH BERTON 

    I met Ralph Berton at the 1973 Bix Festival in Davenport. He hung around our band that weekend and got to sit in on drums during one after hours session. He mentioned to me that he was writing a book about  Bix but that it in no way would conflict with the "other one" that was rumored to be forthcoming. I remember telling Berton that I was a friend and correspondent of biographer Philip Evans and could not imagine anyone else expecting to top his definitive work. Ralph reiterated that his book was to be a memoir of this times with Bix in 1924 and his brother Vic's prowess as a jazz drummer/inventor/personality.

    Believing that he was sincere and getting no negative feedback from
anyone about him I responded to Berton's letters and lengthy phone calls that started coming later that year. I gave him  copies of a few common photos I had and, more importantly, my list of friends who knew Bix. He did contact many of them and always by telephone. No one saw a draft of his work and it was not until the book was published by Harper & Row that I was sent a copy and read the "memoir" regarding his brother Eugene and Bix. I doubt that Ralph expected anything like the outrage this created by all of us who had contributed to his hastily organized book. I have his last letter to me in which he acknowledges being bombarded by criticism and complaints including my own. Our biggest objection was that his brother Eugene and Bix were both dead which rendered any defense or correction impossible. Additionally, reporting the alleged affair in his book seemed unnecessary until realizing that this might appeal to Hollywood film producers considering making a movie version of Berton's book. As it turned out, his book WAS considered by a film company! 
   
    Even the highly touted Leonard Feather wrote a glowing review in the Los
Angeles Times, as though this was a long awaited definitive version of Bix's life. Without anyone to file a defamation of character suit over Berton's racy disclosure, at least my good friend Paul Mertz responded to Feather's overrated book review with a brilliantly worded "letter to the editor" put down of Berton, his intentions and the snobbish Feather's apparent lack of knowledge. Then in 1975, Bobby Hackett called me to ask if I had been solicited for the soundtrack of a film based on Berton's book. In telling him I had not been approached by Berton but that the Evans book was being considered and should his book be made into a movie, that I would be interested. Hackett, in his witty but sarcastic best said "Tom, I told them (Berton) I wouldn't be interested but that they should try to get Miles Davis?! That is still one of my favorite Hackett stories.

   
The only other time I was badly duped and fooled by anyone who sought my free help and advice with a Bix project was the Canadian film producer Brigitte Berman. In 1979, I befriended her and an "escort" named Jerry Jest with lots of material including names, numbers and addresses from my personal directory of many of the principals she later filmed, interviewed and consulted for her production. Berman violated nearly everyone's trust according to the reports that came back to me for years after the film was released in 1981. She failed to honor promises to return rare photos and other memorabilia to persons who put their trust in her and then she disappeared from further contact with everyone including those who appeared or contributed to her successful documentary.
                                                                                                                                                                Brigitte Berman

BIX'S MUSIC

    Unlike jazz artists recording in modern times, Bix and many other  soloists of his era were told what to play by the dreaded  record company executives we've heard about. These tasteless
decision makers nearly
always brought in their own vocalists who had no association with the jazz musicians except to fulfill a requirement of providing the general public the opportunity of "hearing the lyrics". Yes, the lyrics on such jazz classics as "Hoosier Sweetheart", "Just An Hour of Love" etc. It had to be hard going for Bix and other jazz soloists to recover enough after those intrusions to play anything good but as we know, they frequently did.

    Unfortunately, when I hear latter day recreations of the enforced material Bix and the others endured, my reaction is ....Eddie King lives! Sorry but that's one of the negative consequences of indiscriminate recreations.

CONCLUSION

    My final take on all this is to wonder why the music of the Impressionists who had so much todo with Bix's own concepts of playing jazz are not being appreciated when so much has been recorded and is available. The work of Ravel, Debussy, Delius and others are such a delightful window to seeing where Bix came from, I hope more of you eBixers will take time to listen and enjoy any of this music. It has soothing and healing qualities in this age of noise.

Thanks to those of you who bothered to render any comments on this series.

Happy Holidays!

Uploaded December 21, 2004



Tom Pletcher welcomes replies from interested persons; however, he requests conventional mail. For Tom's address, please write to ahaim@bixography.com.  Alternatively, postings in the Bixography Forum are acceptable. These will be relayed to Tom.


Some photographs of Tom with Friends