BIX BIEDERBECKE and the WOLVERINE
Earliest Recordings by this Jazz Immortal
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Wolverine Orchestra: Bix Beiderbecke (cnt) Al Gande (tb, on Side 1, #1 and 2 only) George Brunis (tb, on Side 2, #3 and 4 only) Jimmy Hartwell (cl) George Johnson (ts) Dick Voynow (p) Bob Gillette (bj) Min Leibrook (tu) Vic Moore (drs) (Kazoo on Lazy Daddy is probably Brunis: piano solo on Big Boy is by Beiderbecke.)
Richmond, Indiana: February 18, May 6, June 20, 1924 and New York City; September 16 and October 8, 1924
1. Fidgety Feet (2:26) (LaRocca - Shields – Ragas)
2. Jazz Me Blues (2:49) (Tom Delaney)
3. Oh, Baby (2:19) (DeSylva – Donaldson)
4. Copenhagen (2:31) (Charles Davis)
5. Riverboat Shuffle (2:33) (Hoagy Carmichael)
6. Susie (2:32) (Nasel – Kahn)
1. Royal Garden Blues (2:50)(C. and S. Williams)
2. Tiger Rag (2:32) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
3. Sensation (2:38) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
4. Lazy Daddy (2:42) (Larocca – Shields – Ragas)
5. Tia Jauna (2:55) (Conely – Rodemich)
6. Big Boy (2:49) (Yellen – Agar)
BIX is probably the major legend of jazz. He was surely one of the most impressive and influential horn men of the 1920s. And both legend and horn had their stating point, in effect, with the recordings reissued here. For these dozen selections by the "Wolverine Orchestra," as the original labels rather formally put it, make up the bulk of the recorded output of the early stages of Beiderbecke's brief and meteoric career.
To set down some of the basic facts about the man: he was Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke, born in Davernport, Iowa, on March 10, 1903; he lived little more than 28 years, dying New York on August 6, 1931. He came from a well-to-do family, probably studied piano a bit, apparently was attracted to the cornet at an early age, but almost certainly never took a lesson on that instrument in his life. (Legend intrudes on fact here to suggest that he may have listened studiously to the horn of Nick LaRocca on the first Original Dixieland Jazz Band records of 1917-18, and that he may have been "influenced" by hearing Louis Armstrong and/or a little-known white riverboat cornetist named Emmett Hardy.) In any event, he was set on a musical career by the time he entered, briefly, Chicago's Lake Forest Academy in 1921. Very shortly thereafter he was part of the group known as the Wolverines, which played at roadhouses and at college dances throughout the Midwest.
They met with more than a little success: among other things, Bix's friend Hoagy Carmichael helped greatly in getting them in with the college crowd - for a while they were practically permanent fixtures at Indiana University fraternity dances. So, late in 1924, they tried New York. They did indifferently well during a short run at the Cinderella Ballroom, but Bix, whose work had already begun to leave musicians astonished and awed, left them there and returned to Chicago. Then began a hectic half-decade ride to the top and the end: featured with bands like Frankie Trumbauer's, Jean Goldkette's and finally Paul Whiteman's, where he was spotlighted amidst the thick-syrup arrangements of that "King of Jazz". That, of course, takes him beyond the scope of this album and into the area where the tall tales really take over. Briefly, Bix was brilliant, but he burned out fast. The high, hard living, the bad whiskey and worse gin of Prohibition, were rather quickly too much for him. Ill during most of his final year, he passed completely into legend in mid-1931, with lobar pneumonia the specific cause of death.
Although Bix was only 21 during the year in which these Wolverine records were made, his style and his approach to jazz were already firmly and clearly defined. Here is the singing tone, the swift-soaring phrases that musicians literally were to come from miles around to hear. It must be admitted that the rest of the Wolverines were nothing too much. Voynow and Moore were competent professionals, and on two of the New York numbers there is the valuable addition of young George Brunis. But it is obvious that the lift and impact of these performances come from one man, and that without Bix there's be little here to value and certainly nothing capable of defying time. Listening to this horn, it is not too difficult to understand why so many fellow musicians loved this slight-framed, practical-joking, absent-minded fellow, regarding him as a strange mixture of idol and kid brother. It is easy enough to understand why an improbably large number of older jazzmen insist that they once roomed with Bix or, at the very least, sat in with him at some incredible all-night jam session or other.
So much hokey writing and well-intentioned legend-building has clouded things over that we may never really get at the "true" picture of Beiderbecke. He was, plainly, a complex and contradictory figure: a dedicated, somehow unworldly creator of imaginative and haunting music, set down in the midst of the Twenties at their most uproarious. The chances are that Bix at least sensed (even if imperfectly and without being able to spell it out clearly) who he was and where he wanted his music to go. That seems indicated in the co-called "classic purity" of his tone; round, cool and clean; fast-tumbling and melodic. But, under the seeming relaxation, one can also sense a feeling of great nervous tension and intensity. To get near-mystical (an effect Bix inevitably tends to have on almost everyone), you might say that - even on his earliest recordings - there is the tragic awareness of man with a desperate desire to reach a goal, but knowing that neither he nor the world is going to allow him enough time. For Bix can be looked at as almost a stereotype of one standard hero of modern fiction: the artist in conflict with himself and with his society.
But in 1924 the young cornetist with the Wolverines was a long way from despair. He was in with a good-time bunch of guys who liked jazz, and people were just beginning to notice him. And so there is, above all, a vast amount of youth and enthusiasm and fire to be heard here, probably more of these particular qualities than on any other record he ever made...
Royal Garden Blues has previously been available on Riverside only in the five-LP set, HISTORY OF CLASSIC JAZZ. The other selections have appeared on the ten-inch Riverside albums, RLPs 1023 and 1050. They are combined here, in sequence as originally record, for the first time on twelve-inch LP.
A note on the original recordings: The first two numbers here were first issued on Gennett 5408; they are the only issued results of the Wolverines' first (Feb. 18) 11754. The two missing master numbers are 11751 and 11754. The two missing master numbers belong to destroyed versions of Sensation and Lazy Daddy. These selections, as re-made in New York on Sep. 16, bear master numbers GEX 9079 and GEX 9080 and made up Gennett 5542. The other Richmond recordings were: on May 6, Oh, Baby/Copenhagen (Ge 5453: mx numbers 11852 and 11853), Riverboat Shuffle/Susie (Ge 5454; mx.numbers 11854 and 11855); on June 20, the one Wolverine selection not included here, I Need Some Petting (11930), issued on Ge 22062 with Royal Garden (11931); and Tiger Rag (11932), never released on Gennett, although it has appeared in England. The final two New York recordings, made on Oct. 8, were issued together on Ge 5565; the master numbers are GEX 9115 (Tia Juana) and GEX 9116 (Big Boy).
Riverside ‘s “Jazz Archive” Series of 12-inch LPs includes important early performances by such other major jazz figures as:
Louis Armstrong (RLPs 12-101. 12-122)
Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-111)
Fats Waller (RLPs 12-103, 109)
James P. Johnson (RLP 12-105)
Johnny Dodds (RLP 12-104)
and many others.
Remastered, Reeves Sound Studios, 1957. (The slight surface noise on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve the highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)
LP produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Weller (photography) and Paul Bacon (design)
The Stutz Bearcat in the cover photo was provided through the courtesy of Henry Austin Clark, Jr. and the Long
Island Auto Museum of Southampton, N.Y.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.