Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series

Part 92 - Bix in Cleveland Newspapers
Story filed December 7, 2004

One of the many myths surrounding the life and music of legendary jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke is that his name appeared in newspapers only twice during his lifetime. Research of old Cleveland newspapers proves the assertion, repeated frequently in books and articles, is obviously not true. There were a number of references to Beiderbecke, considered one of the most important artists in jazz history, in the Cleveland papers alone during his brief lifetime.

In the December 2, 1927 edition of The Cleveland Press, writer Billie Thomas wrote, "Bix Beiderbecke and the Dorsey boys will be with Paul Whiteman when he comes to the Allen Theatre next week." Thomas added, "Bix and the Dorseys are creators of ultra-modern dance music." Beiderbecke and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey were members of the then-extremely popular Whiteman Orchestra which played for a week in December of 1927 at the Allen Theatre.

A week later, December 9, 1927, while the Whiteman band was here, the Press published a cartoon drawing of Bix. Reporter Thomas wrote that Beiderbecke and fellow Whiteman band member Frank Trumbauer were known "wherever musicians gather as leading exponents in the field of dance music." He said Bix had "only one recognized rival as a trumpet or cornet player, Red Nichols," and added that Trumbauer, known as "Tram," was "in a class by himself on the saxophone." The Cleveland Press article also said Bix and Tram "have been identified with the leading bands such as Jean Goldkette’s and Ray Miller’s for several years, but are at their best in a small combination such as Frank Trumbauer’s Orchestra, composed of his pals, Eddie Lang on guitar, and piano played by Art Schutt." Proclaimed the Cleveland newspaper writer, "To my way of thinking, no child should be started in life without being brought up on this kind of music." But, Thomas noted that with the big Whiteman Orchestra at the Allen Theatre, Beiderbecke and Trumbauer were featured only on brief choruses.

Four days later, December 13, 1927, Thomas wrote that while in Cleveland, Trumbauer had written a new arrangement of a song based on a Negro spiritual, entitled "Jubilee." The article said the song was first played in Cleveland by Austin Wylie and his Orchestra during a WTAM radio broadcast from the Golden Pheasant restaurant on Prospect Avenue near East 9th Street. The following year, 1928, a young clarinetist named Artie Shaw joined Wylie’s Cleveland band. And when Shaw later became nationally popular, Clevelander Wylie became his manager.

During the first week of January 1928, the Cleveland newspapers reported the Whiteman Orchestra took part in what was the most widespread national radio network broadcast to that time, a coast-to-coast, one-hour broadcast on NBC, sponsored by an auto company. During the broadcast, Beiderbecke soloed on "Changes."

Later in 1928, the newspapers reported Bix, Tram and the other members of the Whiteman Orchestra played in Youngstown in February, Canton in September, and returned to Cleveland in November for a concert at the then-new Music Hall in the Public Auditorium building at East 6th and St. Clair. During the concert, Beiderbecke, who was losing a battle with alcohol, played "Tiger Rag" and then, passed out on the bandstand and was sent back to the Hotel Cleveland on Public Square. There was no mention in the Cleveland newspapers about Bix’ breakdown but, the next day both the Press and The Plain Dealer carried reviews of the concert. Arthur Shepherd, writing in The Press, said, "After the band had jounced and jostled, chuckled and chortled, snorted and sneezed its way thru last night’s program, we were at least convinced of the physical vitality and entertaining punch that are part and parcel of American jazz." James H. Rogers, writing in The Plain Dealer, said, "All sorts and conditions of jazz music were played...and some were oddly named." He listed one song called "Melancholy Baby," another entitled "Sugar." In the words of the classical music reviewer, "This did not suggest anything sweet to me, rather something like red pepper with a touch of garlic." But, Rogers admitted "it was an entertaining concert."

The Whiteman Orchestra returned to Cleveland a month later to play for a week, beginning January 20, 1929, at the Palace Theatre at 17th and Euclid. This time, Bix never got to the theatre. French Beiderbecke biographer Jean-Pierre Lion tells me he does not believe Bix even made the trip to Cleveland after his breakdown here a few weeks earlier. But, American biographers Philip and Linda Evans wrote that Bix suffered another breakdown in his room at the Hotel Cleveland (now the Renaissance).

The day after the opening at the Palace, George Davis wrote in The Cleveland Press that one of Whiteman’s "best musicians is absent." There was no further explanation of Beiderbecke’s absence from the band until four days later, January 25, 1929, when the Press reported, "Paul Whiteman at the Palace this week hopes to have Bix Beiderbecke, his star hot cornet player, back in time" for a broadcast on February 5th. The Press said Beiderbecke was recovering from "an illness" at his home in Davenport, Iowa.

Beiderbecke did return to the band and played with it on Sunday, May 26, 1929 at the WHK Auditorium. It was the last time Bix was in Cleveland. He died in 1931 at the age of 28.

It is fascinating the things that you can find in old newspaper articles – and the things that you cannot find -- details that only emerged later. And for anyone who still believes the mythology that Beiderbecke was mentioned in newspapers only twice in his lifetime, I have a file drawer full of copies of old Cleveland Press and Cleveland Plain Dealer articles that prove conclusively that the frequently repeated myth about Bix is false.

Copyright 2004 Joe Mosbrook

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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. The greatly-expanded second edition of Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History book is available from the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, 4614 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44193.