I recently wrote about the sad state of historical self-awareness in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Which is fine. I'm entitled. But I don't need to hear it from a couple of uptight Englishmen. I refer of course to Charles Wareing & George Garlick, two Brits who never actually visited Davenport—God forbid—but who undertook the first full-length biography of its most famous son, the jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Bix died in 1931. Wareing & Garlick's book, Bugles for Beiderbecke, was published in 1958. Here are the book's excruciatingly condescending opening paragraphs:
In the State of Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi, lies the township of Davenport.
The faint interest with which this information is likely to be received is, perhaps, a direct result of the resistance jazz has encountered in its efforts to gain acceptance as a small, albeit genuine, art form. Jazz being granted recognition, initially and without reservation, the name of Davenport might conceivably have borne greater significance in musical circles. But jazz was born in squalor and its early history bound up with an environment hardly to be mentioned in polite society. Even today the attainment of comparative respectability is periodically assailed by both religious and secular bodies, who profess to fear its influence on the minds of the young. Given, then, a form of music the best examples of which are popularly assumed to fall below the level of artistry, it would appear pointless to seek genius within the ranks of its practitioners; and upon this hypothesis it is presuming too much to expect reverberations at the mere mention of Davenport.
Yet the information is not entirely gratuitous. Although the majority of its citizens might falter if taxed for the reason, Davenport does, in fact, claim a modest degree of fame.
It was there, on the 10th March, 1903, that Leon Bix Beiderbecke first saw the light of day.
[February 6, 2006]