Some Documents pertaining to Bix in Lake Forest

Some Documents pertaining to Bix in Lake Forest

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 7th, 2012, 6:09 pm #1


1. Application.
2. Letters of recommendation.
3. Letter informing Bix is placed on probation.
4. Letter informing Bix's dismissal from Lake Forest Academy.
5. Letter form Bismark to headmaster.
6. Response form headmaster to Bismark.
7. Letter from Bix's mother to headmaster asking permission for Bix to play at Northwesern University.
8. Letter with Bix's academic record at Lake Forest.

http://bixbeiderbecke.com/BixLakeForest ... orest.html

There are many fascinating aspects in the documents. Here are some that particularly called my attention.

1. Bismark seems to be more concerned with what parents of students are complaining about than by Bix's dismissal.
2. I don't think Bix filled the application. I am pretty sure it was his mother.
3. Bix was expelled for poor academic work and for bringing alcoholic drinks to campus.
4. Bix signed up or tennis and basketball. I am surprised he did not sign up for baseball.
5.The headmaster's response to Bismark is pretty tough: if Bix is to take final exams, he should not fraternize with other students. He is treated as if he had leprosy!

Albert

 
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Brad Kay
Brad Kay

September 8th, 2012, 12:44 am #2

These are FASCINATING documents, which shine the clearest light imaginable on Bix's career at Lake Forest. The theme running through all of them is the faculty and parental concern that Bix "straighten up and fly right." Of all these letters, the most telling and poignant is the one from Bismarck, in which the crucial paragraph reads:

"We are aware that Bix is no student & all our pleading to settle down to hard study has apparently been of no avail - He simply cannot apply himself to the task but what cuts deepest, as the result of his separation from school is, that his influence upon his fellow students was such that the parents should object to their sons' association with him. May I ask you to state the nature of his conduct which aroused the parents' objection? Was it something to be ashamed of or was it due to the fact that he was apt to detain or hinder them in their studies?"

In this one paragraph, Bix's dad painfully airs his regret and fear: Admitting his awareness that Bix was "no student," - reflecting Bix's whole academic career - and his fear that Bix might have done something to bring (further?) shame to the family (Bix's brush with the law evidently was still fresh in Bismarck's memory). Of course the headmaster's crushing reply was no balm.

I can see, in this context, how it was possible for Bismarck to rue - even to hate - Bix's obsession with music. I am not a parent, but it's not hard for me to appreciate a father's intense bewilderment at a son and heir who, though intelligent, likeable and of sound body, shrugs off every advantage this father and his world can offer, to barrel headlong into terra incognito.

When we add the fact that Bix was a bewilderment even to his fellow denizens of that unknown world, we begin to understand how truly unique he was.

Two questions, Albert: I have never seen any of these documents before now. Did they come to light recently? If you had been Bix's chemistry teacher at Lake Forest, how would you have advised him?

-Brad K

*See paragraph 18 of the Lake Forest Application for Admission.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 8th, 2012, 2:25 pm #3


1. Throughout the years, people have sent me Bix-related material. I have lots of from interesting to fascinating items in the hard disk of my computer. As time permits, I put them out in the forum or the Bixography website. Remember, a few months ago, the highly informative letter from Bruce Foxman to Phil Evans? I had that for years, and it is only recently that I uploaded it. And you ain't seen nothing yet: I still have to upload letters that Bruce received from Phil Evans.  The material from Lake Forest I also have had for several years.

2. What advice would I have given Bix had he taken chemistry with me? I taught in two research universities for over forty years: freshman, seniors, graduate students, post-docs. I must have taught thousands of freshmen, many of them pre-meds (chemistry is required of all pre-meds). Some of them had serious difficulties with chemistry and would come to talk to me during office hours: they <em>needed</em> at least a B to apply for medical school. Some were  pre-meds not because they wanted a career in medicine but because their parents wanted them to become doctors. My advice to them was always the same. Don't do something that will determine the course of the rest of your life <em>for somebody else</em>; whatever you do, do it <em>for yourself</em>. So my advice to Bix would have been the same as I gave to pre-meds: don't go to school to satisfy your parents needs; do what is important to you. I am sure thousands of parents would come after me if they knew the advice I gave to their sons and daughters. You probably remember that I am a Libertarian and strongly advocate the right to self-determination and supremacy of the individual. So my advice is based on my principles: lead your life according to what your inner-self wants, not according to what others want for you. 

 I will respond to your comments about Bix's father later this afternoon. You raise a very important point.

Albert
Last edited by ahaim on September 8th, 2012, 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Alberta
Alberta

September 8th, 2012, 7:23 pm #4

1. Application.
2. Letters of recommendation.
3. Letter informing Bix is placed on probation.
4. Letter informing Bix's dismissal from Lake Forest Academy.
5. Letter form Bismark to headmaster.
6. Response form headmaster to Bismark.
7. Letter from Bix's mother to headmaster asking permission for Bix to play at Northwesern University.
8. Letter with Bix's academic record at Lake Forest.

http://bixbeiderbecke.com/BixLakeForest ... orest.html

There are many fascinating aspects in the documents. Here are some that particularly called my attention.

1. Bismark seems to be more concerned with what parents of students are complaining about than by Bix's dismissal.
2. I don't think Bix filled the application. I am pretty sure it was his mother.
3. Bix was expelled for poor academic work and for bringing alcoholic drinks to campus.
4. Bix signed up or tennis and basketball. I am surprised he did not sign up for baseball.
5.The headmaster's response to Bismark is pretty tough: if Bix is to take final exams, he should not fraternize with other students. He is treated as if he had leprosy!

Albert

 
I had never seen any of these things before either. I must confess that as a parent of a student who had a few challenging years in middle school, and later decided what he wanted and no longer rebelled, I was in sympathy with every word Bix's parents wrote. I would have reacted in exactly the same way, except for one thing. I might not have given permission to play as Aggie did. I'm undecided on that one. But I would be like Bismarck in being more concerned about my child's influence on others than on his own failings as a student and subsequent dismissal. To me that seems to indicate a greater concern as to Bix's character as a person, more important certainly than being a good student. And I would be concerned about what other parents were complaining about not for the social reason of embarrassment about what others what might be saying about my child, but because if other parents are unanimously concerned, maybe there's something there that is deeper than what I am perceiving about my own child. To me, that seemed to be Bismarck's thinking as well. I think they knew they were putting Bix on a path that he did not want, but so many of us do that simply because the paths we know are the paths we know how to teach. It's impossible for most people to visualize a lifestyle that they themselves, and those in their world, have not experienced. I think Bix was lucky to have the parents he did.

The verdict: Bix was expelled for alcohol and for poor academic performance. My guess is, his parents were disappointed, but these are hardly character failings. My guess is, even though it was Prohibition, families with strong European backgrounds still imbibed, as mine certainly did, which I think was perfectly legal as long as you made it yourself, which they did. So I'd bet that the Beiderbecke clan thought Prohibition was much ado about nothing. Additionally, there doesn't seem to have been a strong tradition of academic excellence in that family--college seemed to be more of a class thing than an education thing, but I could be wrong about that. And, if the stories of Aggie doing Bix's homework for him to pull up his grades are true, well, that's exactly the wrong approach if one is concerned with education per se. So, in summary, my guess is, the Beiderbeckes were not horrified at their son's fate at Lake Forest. My guess is they were, rather, disappointed that it was now clear that his chosen path was something that was alien to them, and that this was the big problem.
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Laura Demilio
Laura Demilio

September 9th, 2012, 12:14 am #5

These are fascinating documents and I am very impressed with Albert's insight and the very thoughtful and equally insightful contributions of Brad and Alberta regarding "what Bix must have done" to cause parents to want to forbid their sons' association with him.

I recall on those 1972 radio program interviews offered here on the forum that a specific LFA classmate remembered, "He was not a BAD boy. . . " and something along the lines of Bix sneaking out at night to get to Chicago and hear jazz in the clubs, "but it would not be fair to the other students if Bix were permitted to get away with that." I, too, believe that strict parents were angry about the alcohol situation, especially during Prohibition times, not to mention underaged schoolboys imbiding at the encouragment or influence of an older (age 19) boy. I also suspect Bix had a very strong emotional pull on his friends, the same way as later friends, bandmates, colleagues admired and attempted to emulate him (reading somewhere the Austin High Gang kids went so far as to try and talk and walk like Bix, as well as copy him musically!) -- I don't think Bix would have deliberately wanted the kids at Lake Forest to cause trouble and be disobedient, especially at his instigation, but take a charming, humorous, rather over-indulged boy who is very witty and talented, obviously popular with his friends, holding teachers and the headmaster at bay with his "clever excuses" and sneaking out at night for what the kids probably thought were wild adventures in Chicago, and after awhile those boys are going to see their teachers as grinding drones and stuffy disciplinarians quashing spirited, funny Bix and the rest of them as well. Bix had to have been at least somewhat glamorous to them, the way he could play at dances. It wasn't like he was the flashy football jock or the campus Lothario who wooed all the girls at Ferry Hall away, but he certainly had something the other boys liked and admired very much. Herr Professor Koepke lost his temper when the boys in the band suddenly burst into a jazz tune and Bix was the leader of THAT; they swilled some alcoholic hair tonic on some other musical misadventure which angered the faculty; there were probably a number of jokes and pranks being played which weren't being caused by Bix, but the students could be getting into the spirit of things and catching the air of a charmer who was somehow "getting away with" considerable mischief and outright disobedience. He probably was the subject of admiring gossip and one parent and faculty member too many heard yet another anecdote of Bix lore and were annoyed -- hence deeming him "a bad influence" who was disrupting the student body and was forbidden to be further "messing and meddling about the School."

I have old books on jazz - from 1939's Jazzmen onward to 1950's volumes -- in which Bix's mother and Headmaster John Richards are quoted from interviews --I have to look them up and quote who said what -- but Mr. Richards stated that he had really liked Bix and admired his musical talent. Obviously the boy just wasn't student material and certainly not fitting in with the emotional discipline of that school.

Hope there is more discussion on this!

-Laura
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 9th, 2012, 2:11 am #6

Last edited by ahaim on September 9th, 2012, 12:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Laura Demilio
Laura Demilio

September 9th, 2012, 3:21 pm #7

These are fascinating documents and I am very impressed with Albert's insight and the very thoughtful and equally insightful contributions of Brad and Alberta regarding "what Bix must have done" to cause parents to want to forbid their sons' association with him.

I recall on those 1972 radio program interviews offered here on the forum that a specific LFA classmate remembered, "He was not a BAD boy. . . " and something along the lines of Bix sneaking out at night to get to Chicago and hear jazz in the clubs, "but it would not be fair to the other students if Bix were permitted to get away with that." I, too, believe that strict parents were angry about the alcohol situation, especially during Prohibition times, not to mention underaged schoolboys imbiding at the encouragment or influence of an older (age 19) boy. I also suspect Bix had a very strong emotional pull on his friends, the same way as later friends, bandmates, colleagues admired and attempted to emulate him (reading somewhere the Austin High Gang kids went so far as to try and talk and walk like Bix, as well as copy him musically!) -- I don't think Bix would have deliberately wanted the kids at Lake Forest to cause trouble and be disobedient, especially at his instigation, but take a charming, humorous, rather over-indulged boy who is very witty and talented, obviously popular with his friends, holding teachers and the headmaster at bay with his "clever excuses" and sneaking out at night for what the kids probably thought were wild adventures in Chicago, and after awhile those boys are going to see their teachers as grinding drones and stuffy disciplinarians quashing spirited, funny Bix and the rest of them as well. Bix had to have been at least somewhat glamorous to them, the way he could play at dances. It wasn't like he was the flashy football jock or the campus Lothario who wooed all the girls at Ferry Hall away, but he certainly had something the other boys liked and admired very much. Herr Professor Koepke lost his temper when the boys in the band suddenly burst into a jazz tune and Bix was the leader of THAT; they swilled some alcoholic hair tonic on some other musical misadventure which angered the faculty; there were probably a number of jokes and pranks being played which weren't being caused by Bix, but the students could be getting into the spirit of things and catching the air of a charmer who was somehow "getting away with" considerable mischief and outright disobedience. He probably was the subject of admiring gossip and one parent and faculty member too many heard yet another anecdote of Bix lore and were annoyed -- hence deeming him "a bad influence" who was disrupting the student body and was forbidden to be further "messing and meddling about the School."

I have old books on jazz - from 1939's Jazzmen onward to 1950's volumes -- in which Bix's mother and Headmaster John Richards are quoted from interviews --I have to look them up and quote who said what -- but Mr. Richards stated that he had really liked Bix and admired his musical talent. Obviously the boy just wasn't student material and certainly not fitting in with the emotional discipline of that school.

Hope there is more discussion on this!

-Laura
To elaborate a little further, on that 1972 radio program the interviewed LFA alum described Bix as "quiet"; subsequent friends described him as modest, shy, reserved, even introverted, but it is interesting that Sid Stewart stated in Phil Evans' Bix book that Bix, to him, was not shy and introverted, but described as "extremely witty, with a tendency toward sarcasm," and "extroverted and outgoing; keen sense of humor, intelligent, a good athlete."

Probably Bix was the sort of guy who had the good sense and good manners not to be all over the place in people's faces, but comfortably himself just with the friends he had gotten close to--it seems most of his Davenport pals knew him that way. Yet, certain of his very closest friends STILL described Bix as shy, introspective, and quiet -- I'm thinking Hoagy in particular --(while the guys believing Bix was very reserved or even a bit of a sphinx still were lauding his obvious intelligence and humor, so Bix certainly wasn't completely in his shell); whereas others such as Sid and other schoolboy buddies or later colleague friends saw him as hail-fellow-well-met, up to crazy pranks (Doc Hostetter's hilarious recollection of Bix seeing the couple having sex in bed through a hotel room window and calling up that room to boom on the phone, "This is God! I see what you're doing! Shame! Shame!" Really bashful guys don't get up for that sort of joke, right? But with a friend he regularly chatted with and felt comfortable being around, and in the right mood of silliness--and possibly a little inebriation -- boys will be boys.)

Anyway, I don't suspect it was an situation or even an instance of Bix declaring: "Hey, you guys! Here's what we're going to do -- we're ALL gonna get smashed and turn the song Herr Koepke's having us play into a rag [or jazzy, or whatever] and THEN you're all gonna watch me sneak down the fire escape this evening to get to Chi and catch some nightlife, but don't tell, got me?" He probably just did what he did without boasting or being obvious or notifying anyone about it, and the boys found out about it and admiringly, enviously looked on. Sid Stewart was one of the guys who regularly went out with Bix on these nighttime expeditions to the clubs, so Bix did go with friends and not always sneaking off alone. Therefore, the theory of Bix being a leader influencing the other kids was simply them getting a kick out of and probably emulating or attempting to emulate what this boy they liked so much as a person did, and was able to get away with for some time. And again, interesting and humorous Bix Stories no doubt abounded across campus by Spring 1922, which irritated the parents who heard them -- "I don't want you going about with that boy anymore, understand?" when they got wind of some of the mischief Oh, That Bix! got into.

Just imagine one of your kids coming home from boarding school or college full of stories of a particular person they liked and admired, but more and more rumors and tales of his or her high jinks and misadventures became apparent, or the kids were so worked up over their new fun pal, they weren't paying attention to their schoolwork anymore. That's where I see the parents, with the faculty, disapproving of Bix and seeing him as a bad influence -- and then of course illegal booze being brought on campus by a still legally underaged boy was the topper.

Laura
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Laura Demilio
Laura Demilio

September 9th, 2012, 4:47 pm #8

These are fascinating documents and I am very impressed with Albert's insight and the very thoughtful and equally insightful contributions of Brad and Alberta regarding "what Bix must have done" to cause parents to want to forbid their sons' association with him.

I recall on those 1972 radio program interviews offered here on the forum that a specific LFA classmate remembered, "He was not a BAD boy. . . " and something along the lines of Bix sneaking out at night to get to Chicago and hear jazz in the clubs, "but it would not be fair to the other students if Bix were permitted to get away with that." I, too, believe that strict parents were angry about the alcohol situation, especially during Prohibition times, not to mention underaged schoolboys imbiding at the encouragment or influence of an older (age 19) boy. I also suspect Bix had a very strong emotional pull on his friends, the same way as later friends, bandmates, colleagues admired and attempted to emulate him (reading somewhere the Austin High Gang kids went so far as to try and talk and walk like Bix, as well as copy him musically!) -- I don't think Bix would have deliberately wanted the kids at Lake Forest to cause trouble and be disobedient, especially at his instigation, but take a charming, humorous, rather over-indulged boy who is very witty and talented, obviously popular with his friends, holding teachers and the headmaster at bay with his "clever excuses" and sneaking out at night for what the kids probably thought were wild adventures in Chicago, and after awhile those boys are going to see their teachers as grinding drones and stuffy disciplinarians quashing spirited, funny Bix and the rest of them as well. Bix had to have been at least somewhat glamorous to them, the way he could play at dances. It wasn't like he was the flashy football jock or the campus Lothario who wooed all the girls at Ferry Hall away, but he certainly had something the other boys liked and admired very much. Herr Professor Koepke lost his temper when the boys in the band suddenly burst into a jazz tune and Bix was the leader of THAT; they swilled some alcoholic hair tonic on some other musical misadventure which angered the faculty; there were probably a number of jokes and pranks being played which weren't being caused by Bix, but the students could be getting into the spirit of things and catching the air of a charmer who was somehow "getting away with" considerable mischief and outright disobedience. He probably was the subject of admiring gossip and one parent and faculty member too many heard yet another anecdote of Bix lore and were annoyed -- hence deeming him "a bad influence" who was disrupting the student body and was forbidden to be further "messing and meddling about the School."

I have old books on jazz - from 1939's Jazzmen onward to 1950's volumes -- in which Bix's mother and Headmaster John Richards are quoted from interviews --I have to look them up and quote who said what -- but Mr. Richards stated that he had really liked Bix and admired his musical talent. Obviously the boy just wasn't student material and certainly not fitting in with the emotional discipline of that school.

Hope there is more discussion on this!

-Laura
-- read in the 1939 book "Jazzmen", the chapter called Bix Beiderbecke, page 148:

"Bix was no student, but the music was in him and even the campus couldn't supply enough. An instructor at Lake Forest says Bix used to sneak off campus after hours to play in a band downtown. And already there was plenty of gin. He may have been a faculty problem but the headmaster still remembers his popularity among the students and emphasizes the amiable nature and the unselfishness in Bix that friends are constantly pointing out."

If Mr. Richards isn't saying outright how much he himself might have liked Bix, he is honestly indicating that his wayward student was an extremely well liked boy, and very nice.

But there was the gin, and whatever parents disapproved of "the influence" the boy must have had on his friends. Just imagine a Christmas vacation 1921 conversation in some wealthy Chicagoan's mansion:

"Son, ever since you've been home for the holiday you've been going on about that Tricks Better Bike fellow until I am sick of hearing about him. Will you pipe down about it already?!" snaps Father.

Or Mother, later that spring 1922 to a friend, "You know, Mavis, my Roy hasn't stopped chattering about some Beck Byderbix boy at the school and we can't do a thing with him anymore -- his grades have slipped abominably and I have heard talk that some of those boys up there have been IMBIBING. Plus that ghastly JAZZ the students listen to up there now, all involving that boy!"

Whoops. Bad influence. Get that kid off campus, because he's ruining Sonny's attitude and work ethic. . . . !
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 9th, 2012, 7:55 pm #9

1. Application.
2. Letters of recommendation.
3. Letter informing Bix is placed on probation.
4. Letter informing Bix's dismissal from Lake Forest Academy.
5. Letter form Bismark to headmaster.
6. Response form headmaster to Bismark.
7. Letter from Bix's mother to headmaster asking permission for Bix to play at Northwesern University.
8. Letter with Bix's academic record at Lake Forest.

http://bixbeiderbecke.com/BixLakeForest ... orest.html

There are many fascinating aspects in the documents. Here are some that particularly called my attention.

1. Bismark seems to be more concerned with what parents of students are complaining about than by Bix's dismissal.
2. I don't think Bix filled the application. I am pretty sure it was his mother.
3. Bix was expelled for poor academic work and for bringing alcoholic drinks to campus.
4. Bix signed up or tennis and basketball. I am surprised he did not sign up for baseball.
5.The headmaster's response to Bismark is pretty tough: if Bix is to take final exams, he should not fraternize with other students. He is treated as if he had leprosy!

Albert

 


The following with Bix wearing a baseball  uniform is the reason why I was surprised that Bix, in his application for admission to LFA, signed up for tennis and basketball and not for baseball.





Albert
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Brad Kay
Brad Kay

September 10th, 2012, 6:51 am #10

-- read in the 1939 book "Jazzmen", the chapter called Bix Beiderbecke, page 148:

"Bix was no student, but the music was in him and even the campus couldn't supply enough. An instructor at Lake Forest says Bix used to sneak off campus after hours to play in a band downtown. And already there was plenty of gin. He may have been a faculty problem but the headmaster still remembers his popularity among the students and emphasizes the amiable nature and the unselfishness in Bix that friends are constantly pointing out."

If Mr. Richards isn't saying outright how much he himself might have liked Bix, he is honestly indicating that his wayward student was an extremely well liked boy, and very nice.

But there was the gin, and whatever parents disapproved of "the influence" the boy must have had on his friends. Just imagine a Christmas vacation 1921 conversation in some wealthy Chicagoan's mansion:

"Son, ever since you've been home for the holiday you've been going on about that Tricks Better Bike fellow until I am sick of hearing about him. Will you pipe down about it already?!" snaps Father.

Or Mother, later that spring 1922 to a friend, "You know, Mavis, my Roy hasn't stopped chattering about some Beck Byderbix boy at the school and we can't do a thing with him anymore -- his grades have slipped abominably and I have heard talk that some of those boys up there have been IMBIBING. Plus that ghastly JAZZ the students listen to up there now, all involving that boy!"

Whoops. Bad influence. Get that kid off campus, because he's ruining Sonny's attitude and work ethic. . . . !
To fully understand the level of infraction Bix committed by sneaking off to Chicago at night, taking his school chums with him, and bringing hooch on campus, let us review Article 19 of the Lake Forest Admission Application:

"In going over the catalogue or Open Letter with the applicant make sure that he thoroughly understands that part dealing with the Word of Honor concerning the use of tobacco while under the school rules and regulations and remaining within limits as defined. He must understand that the Word of Honor, when given by him, is absolutely binding upon him as an honorable gentleman... The applicant himself must sign the following statement: I thoroughly understand the Word of Honor regarding the use of tobacco and remaining within limits at Lake Forest Academy and I fully and freely give my sacred Word of Honor as a gentleman to keep these rules."

[signed: Leon Bix Beiderbecke]

That is: lighting up a cigarette, cigar or pipe - a legal activity taken for granted by adults everywhere - was so taboo and stigmatized by the Lake Forest authorities that it wasn't enough just to post "No Smoking" signs in hallways and dorms. Each boy was required to solemnly swear to, and affix his signature on, this serious, sacred Oath. Alcohol isn't mentioned in the Oath because alcohol was Unmentionable! The use of Federally illegal booze by a Lake Forest boy was, to this mindset, as unthinkable an act as armed robbery, rape, or murder (which aren't mentioned in the Oath, either).

So Bix, charmer that he was, by violating the AWOL provision, inducing others to do so, AND bringing bootleg booze on campus, not only broke his (and their!) sworn and signed "Word of Honor," but committed an Unspeakable Act. No wonder he gets the Leprosy treatment when his folks beg the headmaster to let Bix take his final exams.

I'm surprised he wasn't shot at dawn.

-Brad Kay
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