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From the Archives: The Short, Sad and Brilliant Life of Bix Beiderbecke

Editor’s Note: From time to time, The Daily Music Break re-posts older content. Alex Welsh and Fred Hunt’s version of Davenport Blues is haunting, especially in the context of Davenport native Bix Beiderbecke’s sad story. 

Leon Bismark Bix Beiderbecke died of alcoholism in 1931 at age 28 in Sunnyside, Queens. He was too young and too far from his Davenport, Iowa, birthplace. Bix is lost in the mists of time, but his influence on jazz is great and continues to this day.

Above is a beautiful version of Davenport Blues, with Alex Welsh on cornet and Fred Hunt on piano. Beiderbecke’s style is far more delicate than Louis Armstrong’s, who was his contemporary. Armstrong was capable of great subtlety, but his main style was as straight-ahead as a locomotive. Beiderbecke–especially as interpreted by Welsh–is quiet and peaceful.

Here are I’m Coming Virginia, Riverboat Shuffle and Till My Daddy Comes Home

One of the bios says that Beiderbecke was secluded in Queens working on compositions for piano when he died. Those pieces include In the Dark (played by Dick Hyman), Candlelights (Bernd Lhotzky) and Flashes (Lhotzky).

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Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.