Is It Bix? Is It French? Or Is It Some Sid-Caesarese Gobbledygook?

On Albert Haim’s Bixography forum, dedicated to all things Bix Beiderbecke, Brad Kay muses on the language of Bix’s music. His comments come in the context of a long-running debate over whether the cornet solo on a particular recording (a tune called “Cradle of Love”) is in fact Bix . . .

As Albert said, “Bix’s style was not just a set of ‘gestures’ or ‘mannerisms.’ There was a cohesiveness, a unity in the different parts of a Bix solo that must be found in a mystery solo for me to accept that indeed it is played by Bix.”

Precisely my point. What we’re talking about is Language. Bix didn’t just play jazz, he created a musical language. It is an eloquent and beautiful language, and Bix, all by himself, invented and perfected it.

What is language, anyway? How do we know a guy is talking French, and not some Sid-Caesarese gobbledygook? Well . . . because there is a consistency to fluent French. It has vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. Paragraphs! Novels! It speaks for a whole culture. It is comprehensible down to the tiniest detail, so it can do what a language does best: communicate.

Bix’s music has just such consistencies of grammar, syntax, phrasing and storytelling—and boy, does it communicate! Unfortunately, he never got to the Novel stage, but that’s just our hard luck. Double unfortunately, we have only fragments of this language on record, a pitifully small representation of what was evidently an immense musical vocabulary. (Kind of like the poetry of Sappho, which exists today only in shreds). But just as English has (semi-) consistent details of spelling and usage, so does Bix’s music. There is a unique logic in it that is detectable down to miniscule phrases.

This website is supposed to be dedicated to the appreciation of the music, life and world of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz genius from Davenport, Iowa. I say, if we are that interested in him, we should at least try to understand his language.

[May 7, 2006]