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Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who considered himself a failure and died (primarily from alcohol abuse) in 1931 at age twenty-eight, would no doubt have been astonished to learn that a group of world- class musicians was assembling to record an album celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his birth. But if Bix was unable to recognize his own genius, others wereand now, seventy-two years onward, he rests comfortably in the pantheon raised to honor such legendary jazz pioneers as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson and Buddy Bolden.
Beiderbecke’s music is vividly revitalized by the Centennial All-Stars and Arbors Records in this wonderfully played, beautifully transcribed and handsomely packaged homage consisting of nineteen songs on which Bix was featured during his brief but meteoric six-year recording career (1924-30). Included are stylish new arrangements of recordings Beiderbecke made with the Wolverines, orchestras led by Jean Goldkette, Paul Whiteman and Frank Trumbauer and his own ensembles. Group sizes vary from eight to twelve with one exception the great Dick Hyman on solo piano faithfully replicating Bix’s resourceful ideas and adding a few of his own on “Clementine (from New Orleans).”
As one would expect, cornets are prominent throughout, with three contemporary masters Randy Sandke, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart taking their turn in the spotlight alongside trombonist Dan Barrett (who doubles on cornet), guitarist Howard Alden and pianist Mark Shane. The reed section is similarly adept, with everyone doubling on clarinet and three members Dan Levinson, Pete Martinez and Scott Robinson playing the seldom-heard C-melody saxophone. Vince Giordano’s rumbling bass sax adds weight on several numbers. The vocals are superbly sculpted by Barbara Rosene (“Proud of a Baby Like You,” “I’m Coming Virginia,” “Singin’ the Blues”), James Langton (“From Monday On,” “Deep Down South”) and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings (“Borneo,” “San”).
To satisfy today’s listener while “maintaining the free-wheeling spirit of the original sessions,” the early arrangements were expertly renovated by Levinson and Peter Ecklund with almost every selection including a harmonized transcription of one or more of Bix’s solos. To add to one’s pleasure, the comprehensive and informative booklet contains a number of vintage photographs of Bix and his colleagues, an absorbing biographical essay by Chip Deffaa, useful remarks about the music by Sandke and an informative appraisal of the enterprise by its producers Levinson, Doug LaPasta and David White.
A photo of the 1924 Wolverines with Bix seated second from right is reproduced on the cover with members of the All-Stars (Kellso, Giordano, Levinson, Alden, Joe Ascione, Shane, Barrett) dressed in period costume and posed exactly as the Wolverines were, “sitting in” with Bix whose image is superimposed.
The album, Sandke writes, “is living proof of how durable and pervasive Bix’s musical legacy still is.” While I’m no authority on the seminal years of Jazz (far from it), it’s easy to fall in love with music as upbeat and pleasing to one’s ear as this, especially when it is so marvelously performed.
At the Jazz Band Ball; Proud of a Baby Like You; Deep Harlem; Riverboat Shuffle; Davenport Blues;
Jazz Me Blues; Blue River; I Need Some Pettin
Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, Randy Sandke, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone, cornet; Harvey
Tibbs, trombone; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto, C-melody sax; Pete Martinez, clarinet, C-melody sax;
Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor, C-melody sax; Jack Stuckey, clarinet, alto sax; Mark Shane, Dick
Hyman (11), piano; Howard Alden, Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, bass; Vince Giordano, bass,
bass sax; Joe Ascione, drums; James Langton, Barbara Rosene, the Manhattan Rhythm Kings
(Marc Kessler, Brian Nalepka, Hal Shane), vocals.