I don't agree with Ted ....

by Albert Haim

.... that Bix was "cool." Neither in the style of his playing, nor in his personality (of course, as far as I can tell from what people who knew him said about him). Ted deserves a complete explanation since what he wrote in his book is thoughtful and significant. It will be very difficult and time-consuming to provide a satisfactory response. I hope to be able to do it. For the time being, I will provide a brief account.

Bix as a predecessor of "cool jazz." Perhaps in some of his recordings, Bix displays the restraint that has been taken to be a characteristic, a fingerprint if you like, of the "cool jazz" style. But that is far from what is needed to identify Bix as a cat who blows cool. Restraint is just one aspect of Bix's style (and not always; think of "From Monday On," most of his recordings with His Gang, etc) First, note that Bix's playing is filled with strong and deep emotions - what Sudhalter describes as layered and complex. Second, and this is very important, there is what I would call the "content" of his music, new melodies improvised over the chord structure of the tune, and new improvisations in every take. Just the fact that he did not play the same thing twice shows, to me at least, that he was not approaching his music in a cerebral (cool) manner, but in an impetuous way, conveying what he was feeling at different times. I imagine that people describe Bix's style as restrained, in part, because Bix is often compared with Louis Armstrong, the other cornetist/genius of the 1920s. Of course, in comparison with hot Louis the extrovert, Bix is cold and introvert. Would we view Bix as "cool" if Louis had not dominated jazz since the 1920s? I don't know, but I doubt it.

Bix as a cool guy. To me, a cool guy is supremely confident and gregarious, his life is focused in the external world, not in his internal life. A cool guy is not consumed by a passion for his chosen field of endeavor; on the conrrary, his life is filled with superficial fun. My vision of a cool guy is Paul Newman in "Hud." Although Bix was friendly, I doubt that he was gregarious. Bix was consumed by his passion for music, almost to the exclusion of other activities - several people who knew Bix are witnesses of Bix's fascination, perhaps obsession, with music. Bix was not very talkative. If we take Sylvester Ahola's recollection of Bix ("I am a musical degenerate"), we would infer that Bix  was not a confident guy. Thus, Bix lacks several of the attributes that I view essential in describing a guy a s cool.

I hope this provides a preliminary explication of why I don't view Bix as a cool guy, either musically or in his personality. If I have a chance, and if necessary, I will expand.


Posted on Dec 19, 2009, 11:33 AM

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