Extracurricular Bix

by Brad Kay

In a recent FaceBook thread (LeonBismarkBeiderbecke), Albert hurled a sturdy blow at the base canard that "Poor Bix" never got to play with musicians of his calibre, who were worthy of his talent. I expanded on this, as follows:

It takes nothing away from the superb musicianship of the guys Bix DID record with (especially Lang, Rollini, Don Murray, Venuti and Tram), to wonder how he sounded in other circumstances with other people. AND those circumstances actually did arise - just not in a recording lab. As a sort of musical chameleon, Bix had the uncanny knack of fitting in perfectly with any group. Over the years, I have read reliable reports that he sat in with Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra (see below), Duke Ellington's Cotton Club Orchestra and other black bands; and with various Chicagoans, including Frank Teschemacher, Joe Sullivan and Gene Krupa. Fats Waller, and of course, Louis Armstrong.

I corresponded briefly in 1967 with John Hammond, at Columbia Records. This was early in my collecting career, and I had inquired as to whether there were any more unissued Bix records lurking in the vaults. Hammond was kind enough to write back and say that regrettably, the cupboard was bare. But he recalled vividly going up to Small’s Paradise in Harlem in early 1928, when he was seventeen or eighteen. He’d become a regular patron, and partook often.

He wrote that one night, Bix sat in with the house band, Charlie Johnson’s Orchestra. At the time, this group included Jimmy Harrison on trombone, Jabbo Smith on trumpet, Edgar Sampson and Benny Carter on reeds and violin, and Cyrus St. Clair on tuba. Fast company, indeed! Hammond reported that Bix sounded like a regular member of the band, blending seamlessly with everyone, and soloing magnificently, carrying on like he never did with his regular outfits. Evidently, Bix sought out great musicians of any stripe, and could adjust instantly to his surroundings. Hammond also said that absolutely nobody minded that Bix was white, not the musicians, nor the patrons, nor the (gangster) management.

I quickly lost this letter, but recollect it decently

-Brad Kay

Posted on Jul 15, 2017, 12:34 PM

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