Picks and Pans Review: Bix Lives!
As the title of this album suggests, Beiderbecke was the Jim Morrison of his day. A jazz cornet player who died in 1931, he was as well known for living hard and hanging out with people like Babe Ruth as he was for the crystalline purity of his tone and his astonishingly melodious improvisations. It's his music that has kept his name alive, though—will anyone be playing Light My Fire in 2035?—and this record provides some enlightening samples of his ability, though it is far from the best Bix collection. All of these tracks are from big-band performances, most of them by Paul Whiteman's huge, syrupy orchestra. Even the band that recorded under Beiderbecke's name, while it included such future jazz heroes as Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Jimmy Dorsey, sounds abysmally staid. (The best Beiderbecke collections remain the small-group albums on Columbia.) What redeems these tunes are the few seconds Beiderbecke had to construct one of his elegantly framed little solos—the little trip on Whiteman's "Dardanella," for instance, or "San." Then there's "You Took Advantage of Me," with a vocal by Bing Crosby (his jazz influences occasionally shone through too, Whiteman or no Whiteman) and a delightful exchange between Beiderbecke and his frequent sidekick, C-melody saxophonist Frank Trumbauer.
This album is a recycling of a 1961 collection, with re-remastered sound and a few new tracks, such as the Whiteman version of "Back in Your Own Backyard," added. (The sound is still on the primitive side, but perfectly listenable.) Hearing it is like looking at an early Picasso: not as wholly satisfying as his other works, but unfailingly intriguing. (RCA)