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Aledo, IL 61231

Beiderbecke played what wasn't written

Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke
Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke was born in Davenport in 1903. By the age of 2 he could pick out melodies on the piano. His parents noticed this talent and hired a music teacher. But he soon quit, frustrated by Bix's lack of interest in reading notes, and refusal to play music as it was written.

Because of poor grades at Davenport High School, Bix was sent to Lake Forest Academy near Chicago. Here he rarely came to class. When he did he was usually late or hungover after a night of playing in Chicago clubs.

After being expelled from the academy, Bix played with the Wolverines and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. He was soon fired and told to learn to read music. His last attempt at traditional education came then in the form of 18 days at the University of Iowa, which rarely involved classes and ended after a drunken fight with a football player.

He was then seen with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. He built a reputation as a talented cornetist, known for his creative improvisations, the same reason his former music teacher had quit.

By this time Bix was also known for his massive alcohol consumption. A 1928 attempt at going dry led to a nasty case of withdrawal, and Mr. Whiteman's decision that Bix leave the band until he had a handle on his drinking.

After alcohol treatment he went to Davenport for some time off at his parents' house. Here Bix's condition improved considerably, but this changed when he returned to New York.

On Aug. 9, 1931, 28-year-old Bix died in New York, the result of pneumonia worsened by alcoholism. Bix left many recordings, some featuring Bing Crosby on vocals. Though he was known for his cornet ability he was also a capable pianist, and was featured on the piano at Carnegie Hall in 1928.

On Nov. 20, 1997 Bix was recognized for the influence his short career had on the music of his day with a place in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.