There was nothing Jazz Age cornetist Bix Beiderbecke loved more than playing hot jazz in a small ensemble with like-minded musicians. In these small bands Bix could let his imagination soar, and create his masterful improvisations with total freedom.
Bix made his 1924 recording debut with an eight-piece band, the Wolverine Orchestra, at the Gennett Studios in Richmond, Indiana. The Wolverines were young, Midwestern college-age kids, and their music was bursting with energy. Their models were the groundbreaking recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.
Typical Wolverine live performances featured solos followed by one ensemble ‘out chorus’ after another, each hotter than the last. These extended hot sessions could never be captured on record due to the typical three-minute limit imposed by producers of 78-rpm discs.
The improvisational genius of Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet playing has been widely influential among musicians. An even larger audience came to know his work during the years he spent as a hot jazz soloist with the popular but often ponderous Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the largest-drawing act in the music business of the period.
At the height of his fame with Whiteman, Bix found time to record with the small groups he loved, mostly in New York City during breaks in the busy Whiteman touring schedule. These small-band recordings—highly regarded today by jazz historians and collectors—can be found in CD collections under the names Bix and His Gang, Bix and His Rhythm Jugglers, and Bix Beiderbecke and His Orchestra.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz New York bandleader, jazz historian and bass saxophonist Vince Giordano joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for a romp through the small ensemble jazz of Bix at his best in the 1920s. Giordano is one of the foremost interpreters of Bix's musical legacy, through his playing, his work as archivist, and as the leader of The Nighthawks in New York City.
Photo credit for Home Page: Vince Giordano, Photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2006