I confess I come late to this party — the delightful CD below was released almost five months ago — but I don’t arrive empty-handed. The words tell it all.
And the music is joyful — more than the solemn faces on the cover suggest.
For whatever reasons — an elusive individual who thrills his contemporaries and vanishes, a creator of inexplicable delicate beauty — Bix Beiderbecke has been the subject of more inquiry, more debate, and more mythology than any other jazz musician. I stand back from such diligence, although I admire its limitless energy. What fascinates me is the music: the music Bix created and its reverberations after his death.
Many “Bix tributes,” to my ears, are laboring under burdens even before the first note is played or recorded. Audiences sigh more fervently than they ever did for the young Sinatra when the first cornet notes of the SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo launch into the air. Other bands offer exquisitely accurate copies of those OKehs and Gennetts. Just the sort of thing for those who like that sort of thing. “Perhaps if we can summon up GOOSE PIMPLES note for note, Bix will never have died?”
But BIX OFF THE RECORD is a more imaginative project. It doesn’t seek to say, “What would Bix have played had he been on Fifty-Second Street alongside Hawkins in 1944,” or “Let’s score Bix for string orchestra.” Rather, it imagines a lovely, plausible alternate universe where Bix, in the recording studios more often (although never enough) got to play and record songs he would have known, was known to have played, among his peers and contemporaries.
Enough words for the moment? Hear sound samples here: three full tracks from the CD, ending with a touching cornet-piano duet on MEAN TO ME. Aside from the brilliant (although honest) recorded sound, the first thing you will notice is the band. No one is imitating Lennie Hayton, Bill Rank, or Min Leibrook. The musicians — not tied to the original Bix oeuvre — are free to roam within the conventions of the genre, but not stiffly or formally. And rather than having this session be a feature for the heartening cornet of Andy Schumm, it features everyone, with delightful arranging touches that make the result more than “Let’s blow on DINAH for five minutes, solos for everyone.” Each performance has sly, sweet, effective glances at other Bix recordings and recordings of the time. It’s truly uplifting fun, not a class trip to the Museum of Jazz. And you can’t read the very fine and informative liner notes by Julio Schwarz Andrade here, but they are worth the price of admission.
The Lake Records Facebook page is full of good things, including news of a new duo-release by Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham called WE WISH THAT WE WERE TWINS, a title both enticing and philosophically deep.
But back to Bix — in his century and in ours simultaneously.
I said I came to this party with gifts, and here are two. On November 7, 2014, eleven months ago, a sextet assembled on the bandstand of the Village Hotel Newcastle Inspiration Suite — where the glories of the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party took place — to play some of the songs that would be explored on the CD above. Messrs Duffee, Sjostrom, Boeddinghaus, Porro, Kompen, and Schumm, if you need reminding. I was there with one of several video cameras and (although there are heads intermittently in the way) the sound of the band was thrilling. Here are two selections from that evening’s offering.
One, a pop song of the day much beloved by Bix (an improvisation on its chords and its intent became FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C), I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN:
Then, Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES as if imagined by the Wolverine Orchestra:
These two performances are, I hope, inducements for those who can to hie themselves to the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — the Whitley Bay party appropriately renamed for its beloved, intent, humorous founder — which will start on Thursday night, November 5, 2015, with a concert / jam session by the exalted Union Rhythm Kings, and end somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, leaving us all weak with pleasure. Here is all you need to know to make that state of being yours. See you there in a month’s time!
And just because it is possible to do so . . . here is the brilliantly screwy surrealistic Fleischer Screen Song (1931) of I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN — primitive karaoke through a distorting lens:
May your happiness increase!