Never mind if Bix played trumpet or cornet. What is needed this weekend of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival is the whole truth about Bix Beiderbecke, our native son with the golden horn.
There is no question that this genius regularly lived by the bottle. He might be full of gin one day, only to dry out and star two days later with the noble Paul Whiteman orchestra. As with many 1920s jazz-age musicians, one drink was all that was needed to touch off a three-day toot.
Bix lived his short life — 28 years — as one of the world’s formidable musicians, a likeable lad of a man who shaped jazz as it should be played. But retellings of his life story are fraught with serious errors and grievous, unflattering untruths, a noted Bix expert says.
SCOTT BLACK, a cornet player who once played with the “Tonight” show band, has been infatuated with Bix all his musical life. Black, 60, is considered the world’s most reliable authority on “anything Bix.” He has managed to obtain rare collections of Bix letters, pictures, tapes and memorabilia.
The collection is immense and has been acquired by the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and World Archives, based here in Bix's hometown. The collection, in 43 large boxes, was trucked from Connecticut to Davenport, says Howard Braren, Rock Island, co-chair of the museum/archives group with Randy Stanke, one of America’s most noted trumpet players. Braren says it is proposed to someday display the collection on the lower level of the River Music Experience (Redstone Building) in what once was the Petersen Harned Von Maur tea room.
Black is angered by so many of the untruths about Bix. He says material in some of the Bix’s biographies was simply made up to create better sales.
“There is absolutely no truth to claims that Bix’s Davenport family was embarrassed by his music and habits,” Black says. “They loved Bix. He was the baby of the family, and whatever he did, they tolerated. He was loved by all; he always had a home and family to come to back to in Davenport.
"HIS FAMILY was concerned, but never ashamed of him. He was a sweet person. Everyone who knew him would say that. Whiteman said that Bix was one of the finest young men he ever knew, and he came to Davenport to put a wreath on his grave.”
Black describes as “heartbreaking” the claim that Bix's family never opened the packages of his records he proudly sent home. He says that if any records were sent home, they were to be added to Bix’s personal collection of classical music.
Chief among the myths was that his family was ashamed of him. Letters from his mother, father and brother Bernie prove the opposite. A Bix admirer says the family adored him throughout his brief life, even through his darkest hours.