Posthumous Fame Jazz Musician Leon Bix Beiderbecke

About the famous Jazz Musician Leon Bix Beiderbecke, biography and history of the man who achieved fame after only death.


LEON "BIX" BEIDERBECKE (1902-1931), U.S. jazz musician

No jazz lover who has heard Bix Beiderbecke's pure cornet has ever forgotten it. Though he came from a musical family and studied classical music on his own, he never took a cornet lesson in his life but taught himself at age 14 by playing along with Dixieland records. The shy, inarticulate boy from Davenport, Ia., dropped out of school, and a succession of jobs with vagrant musical groups finally landed him his first steady work with Frank Trumbauer's band in 1925. He soon moved into Jean Goldkette's orchestra, where he often alternated between cornet and piano. In 1927 he joined Paul Whiteman's band, where he made $200 per week--the financial high point of his career. "Proud of his recordings with Whiteman," wrote Dan Morgenstern, "Bix religiously sent each record to his family; he was deeply hurt when by chance he looked into a closet at home and found it filled with his unopened packages." Whiteman often featured Beiderbecke's cornet solos, which attracted a devoted circle of fans, but the stress of the big band's commercial pace increased his already severe alcohol problem. By 1929 Beiderbecke was no longer dependable on the stand, and Whiteman had to let him go. He played a few odd jobs for a while before he died of pneumonia at age 28. Beiderbecke remained forgotten until 1938, when Dorothy Baker published her Young Man with a Horn, a sentimental novel based on his life. The 1950 film of the same title, starring Kirk Douglas, was an even more romanticized version. Yet the novel marked the beginning of the Beiderbecke cult, and in time the true story of his life proved far more intriguing than the fictional one. In Beiderbecke's integration of Impressionist composers, especially Debussy, his style and tone had lasting influence on jazz, and such recordings as "Singin' the Blues" and "In a Mist" have become classics. Today he is recognized as the first important jazz innovator among white musicians.

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