BIX BEIDERBECKE and the WOLVERINES
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
a selection of the earliest recordings by this jazz immortal
Wolverine Orchestra: Bix Beiderbecke (cnt) Al Gande (tb) (on #1, 2 only) George Brunis (tb) (on #6, 7, 8 only) Jimmy Hartwell (cl) George Johnson (ts) Dick Voynow (p) Bob Gillette (bj) Min Leibrook (tu) Vic Moore (drs)
Richmond, Indiana; Feb. 18& May 6, 1925. New York; Sept. 1924
1. Fidgety Feet (2:26) (LaRocca – Shields – Rogas)
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. Sensation Rag (2:38) (O.D.J.B.)
7. Lazy Daddy #1 (2:42) (LaRocca – Shields – Rogas)
8. Lazy Daddy #2 (2:44)
Bix is, of course, the major legend of jazz. It's probable that more people could tell you one of those more-or-less dubious anecdotes about him than have ever actually heard the sound of his horn. But both the legend and the horn had their stating point, in effect, with these recordings.
Early in 1924, the "Wolverine Orchestra," as the record labels rather formally put it, had three sessions at the Gennett company's Richmond, Indiana, studios. They produced nine tunes, including some of the jazz repertoire created by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, as well as one piece by their friend Hoagy Carmichael, who had helped greatly in establishing their tremendous popularity with the local college crowd - for a while they were practically permanent fixtures at Indiana University fraternity dances. Later, the band cut four more sides in New York; these (plus four additional Gennett sides featuring Bix with other personnel) make up almost the total recorded output of the early stages of Beiderbecke's brief and meteoric career. It is from among these Wolverine numbers that this LP has been selected: the story they tell and the sound they recapture is that of Bix as a young small-band cornet man, playing with the gang with whom he got his start.
To set down some of the basic facts about the man: he was Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke, born in Davenport, Iowa, on March 10, 1903; he lived just a bit more than 28 years and died of pneumonia on August 7, 1931. He came from a well-to-do and musically-inclined family, studied piano a bit, apparently was attracted to the cornet at an early age, but probably never took a lesson on that instrument in his life. (The legend, which refuses to take a back seat to the facts for long, intrudes a bit here: perhaps he listened studiously to the horn of Nick LaRocca on the first Original Dixieland Jazz Band records of 1917-18: he may have been "influenced" by hearing Louis Armstrong, or a little-known white cornetist named Emmett Hardy, on the riverboats that are known to have reached Davenport.) Whatever the causes, he was set on a musical career by the time he entered Chicago's Lake Forest Academy in 1921. He played in the school band and around town, soon left the academy, and shortly thereafter was part of the group that formed the Wolverines to play at roadhouses and at college dances throughout the Midwest.
Perhaps encouraged by the success of their first records, the Wolverines tried New York late in 1924. They had a short run at the Cinderella Ballroom made some records, and did indifferently well, but Bix left them there and returned to Chicago. Then began the hectic half-decade ride to the top and the end: featured with bands like Frankie Trumbauer's Jean Goldkette's finally Paul Whiteman's, where he was spotlighted amidst the thick-syrup arrangements of that "King of Jazz". That takes him beyond the scope of this LP and into the period where the tall (but mostly affectionate) 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 the small, slightly pop-eyed cornetist.
Some of what was to come seems almost for shadowed in these first records, if only in the fact that his style and his approach to jazz were already firmly and clearly defined, although Bix had barely turned 21. Here is the singing tone, the swift-soaring phrases that musicians literally were to come from likes around to hear. It must be admitted that the rest of the Wolverines were nothing too much. Voynow and Moore were sound professionals; Leibrook went on to play with Bix in the Whiteman band; and in the New York numbers there is the valuable addition of Brunis. But it is obvious that the lift and the impact of these performances comes from one man, that without Bix there'd be little here to value and to reissue. Listening to his horn, it is not too hard to understand why so many of his fellow musicians loved him, why so many lay claim to the honor of having sat in with him at some fairly incredible all night jam session, or why more men will tell you they once roomed with Bix than could possibly have fitted into a large-sized dormitory.
The full picture of Beiderbecke involves a great many complexities and contradictions: a dedicated, some who unworldly creator of imaginative and haunting music, set against a background of the Twenties at their most uproarious. But the chances are that Bix at least sensed (even if imperfectly, even if it wasn't anything he could spell out clearly) who he was and where he wanted to go. The direction in the so-called "classic purity" of his tone: round, cool and clean, fast-tumbling and melodic. But also, under the seeming relaxation, one can sense the strange feeling of great nervous tension and intensity. To get near-mystical (an effect Bix inevitably tends to have on almost anyone), you might say that - even in these first recordings - there is the tragic awareness of a man with a desperate desire to reach a goal, but knowing that neither he nor the world is going to allot him enough time. Bix was, after all, almost a stereotype of the standard hero of modern fiction: the artist in conflict with himself and with his society.
Fortunately, as far as listening to these Wolverines records is concerned, Bix in 1924 was a long way from despair. He was young, and in with a good-time bunch of guys who liked jazz, and people were just starting to notice him. So there is, above all, a vast amount of youth and enthusiasm and beauty to be heard here, probably more of these qualities than on any other records he ever made . . .
A Note for Discographers: The first two titles here were originally issued as Gennett 5408; they are the only issued results of the first (February 18) recording date; their master numbers are, respectively, 11751 and 11754. Two missing master numbers belong to unreleased, destroyed versions of Sensation and Lazy Daddy. These two tunes, as re-made in New York on Sept. 16, 1924, bear master numbers 9079 and 9080 and were originally issued together on Gennett 5542, with enough variation between the "A" and "B" takes of the latter so that the present side-by-side reissue of both provides most interesting comparisons. The other three selections are from the Wolverines' second (May 6) Indiana session: Oh, Baby/Copenhagen were originally Ge 5453 (master numbers 11852 and 11853); Riverboat Shuffle (11854) was on Ge 5454.
The Slight Surface noise on the LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
1ST ISSUE: 125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y. (red vinyl)
2ND ISSUE: 418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.