Bix Beiderbecke

Born 10 March 1903. Died 6 August 1931.
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Jazz Library - Bix Beiderbecke

Alyn Shipton explores the music of the great cornettist Bix Beiderbecke.

Featured in BBC Music Clips


In his short life, Bix Beiderbecke left a legacy of recordings of his beautiful cornet sound, his impressionistic piano playing, and the most influential alternative to Louis Armstrong's approach to jazz cornet. His solo playing was supremely melodic, phrased slightly after the beat, and with such clarity of sound that one contemporary described it as 'like shooting bullets at a bell', while guitarist Eddie Condon likened his tone to 'a girl saying 'yes'.

Beiderbecke was largely self-taught , and his enthusiasm for 1920s Chicago jazz led him to join the Wolverines in 1924, with whom he recorded his first influential discs. he led many of his own groups in the studio, several of them comprising New York session players, but he also worked with the big band of Jean Goldkette, groups led by Goldkette's lead altoist Frankie Trumbauer, and eventually the giant big band of Paul Whiteman. His jazziest playing is to be found in his own discs and those with Trumbauer, especially Singin' The Blues and I'm Coming Virginia, which are the two finest examples of his introspective, melodic style.

After health problems and a serious physical assault , the circumstances of which have remained mysterious, Beiderbecke left Whiteman in September 1929 and never fully recovered his health of career. His early death was hastened by alcoholism. He was one of the first American jazz players to include harmonic ideas form European classical music, and his piano compositions, notably In a Mist, have echoes of the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel in a jazz context.

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