At age 11 the first musical genius I heard who bowled me over was Jimi Hendrix in the radio maelstrom after he died; seven years later the next one to do the same to me was Bix Beiderbecke via some 1960's LP's. Over the years I've recognised the genius status of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Lata Mangeshkar, Ravi Shankar and maybe a very few others, but the problem with Bix has always been that there's so little to go on to back up the assertion that he was a genius. He blossomed in 1924, peaked in 1927 and gradually petered out to pay the maximum price of alcohol on August 6th 1931 at 28 years old. So many other "geniuses" have left a large body of work to study and dissect and in Hendrix's case, seemingly endless, but in comparison Bix only left a handful of timeless classic tunes and cornet solos, many more excellent recordings but still more pretty ordinary tunes too.
This documentary did a good job in telling Bix's story, love of music and the bottle, and zipping through those seven hectic years of his life from Davenport to New York via Chicago, from the Wolverines to the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Amongst a plethora of photographs and music clips all kinds of people who were there or friends or relatives of Bix got themselves interviewed, making this an important document in the history of jazz music. Maybe viewers who've only seen the Ken Burns series Jazz In Racially Obsessed America will be puzzled and/or even disappointed at the lack of the mention of Race, but maybe programmes about music should really concentrate on music: this one did. Listen to the relentless phrasing of Singin' The Blues or the tonal perfection of Sorry instead and wipe the tears from your eyes. Richard Sudhalter's definitive biography obviously carried far more information than a documentary film like this can, but also maybe too many flowery details.
Satchmo was a greater trumpet genius than Bix mainly because he lived longer and churned out classics for a few more decades and not because he was more gifted and black. He had his own beautiful "tone" and a unique style, but like he said no one could copy Bix.
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