Bix Beiderbecke fans target a 2017 opening for museum : Go&Do: Entertainment in the Quad-Cities
After 25 years of dreaming and several stops and starts, plans for the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and Archive Collection were unveiled Tuesday at its future home in the River Music Experience, Davenport.
"We have worked for a long, long time to get to this point," Bix museum board president Howard Braren, Rock Island, said at a news conference.
The museum and archives would occupy 1,500 of the 15,000 square feet on the lower level of the RME, the Redstone Building at 2nd and Main streets in the former Petersen Harned Von Maur department store.
Construction for the facility to honor the Davenport native (1903-1931) and jazz pioneer would likely begin in about a year, Braren said, with a target date of opening in 2017, in time for the jazz festival that bears the Bix name.
Cost for the museum build-out ($150,000), design and fabrication ($375,000) and acquisition of Bix material ($100,000) totals $625,000, Braren said, with a lead gift of $100,000 already committed by the Bechtel Charitable Trusts.
Nine members of the museum board have pledged an additional $68,000, Braren said. A $250,000 endowment also is planned.
Two sets of Beiderbecke items and memorabilia were recently purchased, he added, and will be sifted through by Bix historians beginning this weekend at the Putnam Museum, Davenport.
The Putnam has long been the home of Bix cornet, as well as the Beiderbecke family piano, both of which will be requested for loan to the new facility, Braren said.
Braren said the Putnam, which at one time had been considered as a home for a Bix museum, is instead using the space for traveling exhibits.
Bix material was purchased from two collections, Braren said. One was from musician and jazz historian Scott Black and includes 40 boxes of material from Phil and Linda Evans; Phil Evans wrote two books about Bix based on the collection.
Braren said the local Bix coalition had to outbid European collectors.
"This material belongs in Davenport and not somewhere in England," he said.
Another collection was purchased from Elizabeth Beiderbecke-Hart from Springfield, Ill., Bix's grand-niece, and includes love letters to his girlfriend and correspondence with his family.
"They'll tear your heart out when you read some of them," said Gerri Bowers, Davenport, an author and the Bix board member historian.
The letters show Bix as "family oriented," Braren said, "not a person with drinking problems and the like" as the musician is sometimes portrayed.
The museum also would feature the only piano Bix had reportedly ever purchased, which was in the New York apartment where he died; listening stations for Bix-era music; a timeline of Beiderbecke's life and career; and a re-creation of Eddie Condon's nightclub in New York, a frequent Bix haunt.
Braren said that by 2017, Viking River Cruises would begin tours of the Mississippi River with stops in Davenport that would attract European and Asian travelers — some of the same audience that most enjoys Beiderbecke's classic jazz.
"Bix is a worldwide jazz music phenomenon," said Braren, a Beiderbecke relative and retired fundraising consultant. "His music is more recognized in Europe than it is in the United States."
The Bix board, Braren said, will work closely with the RME and the Quad-City Convention and Visitors Bureau with the project.
"It's just a natural here," said Deb Sandry Powers, chief executive officer of the RME.
Powers said the lower level of the RME has included storage as well as administrative offices and West Music classrooms. The storage would be consolidated to bring in the Bix area.
The lower level would be referred to as the "Roots Cellar," and the remaining space would include several new attractions.