Davenport Blues

Artist: Bix Beiderbecke
Album: Bix Restored, Vol. 1

 

Young man with a horn, young man with a bottle: Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke may enshrine the mythology of jazz’s Prohibition years better than any other musician. In January 1925, friend Hoagy Carmichael drove Beiderbecke to the Gennett recording studios in Richmond, Ind., to make this date, which included a young Tommy Dorsey on trombone. It also included three quarts of gin, which is why only two of the four sides recorded at this session proved usable. (The other released number, appropriately enough, was Beiderbecke’s take on the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Toddlin’ Blues.”)

Named after Beiderbecke’s Iowa hometown, “Davenport Blues” is the first of a handful of Bix compositions to make it to record: It features the performer for 32 bars in mellow and melodically inventive form, as he projects a soft and blurry musical light through the ensemble’s somewhat cloudy air. Within several years, Beiderbecke would retreat to Davenport for extended periods of rest while he attempted to stop drinking. Ultimately, he didn’t succeed, dying at age 28 in 1931 and becoming, as critic Benny Green wrote, “Jazz’s Number One Saint.”

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