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Hearing BIx

"The first time I ever listened to jazz"

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“Who’s that knocking at my door?

Who’s that knocking at my door?

Cried the fair young mai-den.

“It’s only me; I’m home from the sea,

Said Barnacle Bill, The Sailor.

It’s only me; I’m home form the sea,

Said Barnacle Bill, The Sailor.”

And then the band took off into the most rollicking music I had ever heard. I closed the front door behind myself, and took off my Boy Scout neckerchief, and unbuttoned my sleeves. As I sat down in a chair across the living room Ben said, “Listen to that, will you?”

He stood up, and crossed the room to the record player, and lifted the needle. Resetting it to play the passage over, he said “Listen to what Tram does behind Bix there. That’s pure genius.”

“While you’re up, how about a refill,” one of the other men said.

Dad spoke up then, saying, “Yeah. Me, too. How ‘bout you, Hank? You ready for a tad more.”

Mr. Yuspa handed Ben his glass, and said, “You should measure. Always measure. It doesn’t matter how much you drink, but you should always measure. It’s only civilized.”

“Speaking of civilized,” my dad said. “Son, this is Mr. Brinsfield. You know him from radio as ‘Harley’.”

Oh, my! I was impressed. I was in high cotton, as they say in some circles. The Harley Show was one of my Dad’s favorite radio programs. It ran on WBAL AM from ten PM to midnight, and Harley played old-style jazz records. The Harley Show was where I first heard Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and a host of other jazz greats from the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties. Dad often had it on in the car when he came to pick me up after Boy Scouts, or on the way home from one of my late night after school things.

Which brings me back to Barnacle Bill. It seems Ben Ring had somehow gotten his hands on some re-issues of old Biederbeke recordings, and he, Dad, Mr. Yuspa and Harley were listening to them while they worked their way to the bottom of a bottle of John Jameson. That recording of Barnacle Bill was one that Bix Biederbeke had cut in about 1922. Personnel included Bix on cornet, Frankie Trumbauer on C Melody sax, and Adrian Rollini on Bass sax.

As I recall, that was while they were all on the payroll of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. At that time, there were three very highly-paid orchestras in the United States; Paul Whiteman, Jimmie Lunceford, and Fletcher Henderson. There were lots of other big bands at that time, and from about 1922 until World War II, all were working pretty steadily, even during the height of the depression. But Paul Whiteman was paying sidemen $75.00 a week, which was a princely sum, when the average annual salary in America was $2067.00. (In 1922, the base price for a Ford 5-Touring was $393, and the top of the line Rolls Royce was $12,600.)

That night was the first time I had ever head Bix Biederbecke (or at least, the first time I paid attention to him) but what really impressed me was Adrian Rollini on bass sax. I wanted to learn to play like that guy. The next side Ben played (all the records were 78 RPM, so each song was a side) was a pretty little piece called In A Mist. It was Bix, playing solo piano. Mr. Brinsfield remarked that it was the only piano recording that Beiderbecke ever made. I was struck by how, although the melody seemed to wander a bit, the chords behind it were just straight ahead blues changes. I didn’t know what blues chord changes even were then, but I knew what chordal sounds I expected to hear next, and they followed that pattern.

Many years later, I played a big band arrangement of that song as the lead tenor player, and when it came to the tenor solo, had no trouble at all feeling exactly what I wanted to play.


I am not certain, but think this may have been the band that recorded Barnacle Bill.

Adrian Rollini’s bass sax is lying on the floor in front of the musicians.

It was always said that BIx played the cornet, but it appears to be a trumpet he is holding in this photo.

Also note that, of the three clarinets on the stands in front of the reed players, two of them are one-piece metal ones.

Written by DLizze
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