More about how Bix played

Albert Haim
Albert Haim

8:02 PM - Sep 12, 2006 #1

Sven reminds me that about a year ago, I collected a whole set of aphorisms that described Bix's style. ... 126709885/

Sven adds this one from Peter Townsend's book Jazz in American Culture (University Press of Mississippi, 2000). Sven writes,

"According to Townsend, Whitney Balliett has described Bix's cornet as sounding like "a carillon playing on a dry morning" (Whitney Balliett, Dinosaurs in the Morning, London Jazz Book Club, 1962, p. 159)."

To read about the carillon, go to

Fred Spencer alerts me of the existence of an article by Frank Gray in ... e_continue

Frank Gray writes,

"When I listen to Beiderbecke today, I am reminded of the accolade conservatively doled out by Wimbledon tennis commentator Dan Maskell when he witnessed a particularly well hit return shot. "Oooh, a peach of a shot, right in the middle of the racket." And so it was with Bix (full name Leon Bismark Beiderbecke), playing right in the middle of the note."


Albert Haim
Albert Haim

6:34 PM - Sep 13, 2006 #2

I am sure you noticed that Frank Grey gives Bix’s full name as “Leon Bismark Beiderbecke.”

We last discussed the question of Bix vs Bismark in ... 151790683/

I recently discovered another article where the subject is brought up. It is an article by Pauline Rivelli, co-editor (with Dan Morgenstern) of the magazine Jazz. She wrote an article in the Feb 1963 issue entitled, “What’s In A Name” (which is also the title of one of Rich Johnson’s lectures in the last Bix cruise).

There are three very interesting and significant pieces of information.

1. Certificate of Birth form Scott County.

Here is a scan.

Notice that the middle name is given as B. and that the document is dated Nov 14, 1962.

2. Certificate of Birth from State of Iowa.

Here is the scan.

Notice that the middle name is given as B (no period) and that the document is dated Nov 26, 1962.

What is even more intriguing is that there are two very similar (in fact, almost identical, except for the dates) documents dated Jan 30 1963 (Scott County) and Feb 5, 1963 (State of Iowa) (both available in Evans and Evans) and that the State of Iowa certificate gives B (no period) as the middle name, but the Scott County certificate gives Bix as the middle name! It is also noteworthy that the Court House Record (Scott County) was amended on Nov 19, 1962.

Here is the chronology for the Scott County Documents.

Nov 14, 1962. Certificate of Birth issued to Pauline Rivelli. Gives B as middle name.
Nov 19, 1962. Court House Record amended.
Jan 30, 1963. Certificate of Birth issued to Beiderbecke family. Gives Bix as middle name.

Speculation. Did someone in the court house alerted Charles “Burnie” Beiderbecke that a request of a Certificate of Birth for Leon had been made and this prompted Burnie to request the amendment? I point out that in her article, Pauline Rivelli writes, “We imposed on Elmer Jens’ (he is the court of district clerk who signed the certificate from Scott county) generosity and wrote a letter to Bix’s brother in Davenport, enclosed it in a letter to Mr. Jens and asked him that he please forward it to Mr. C. B. Beiderbecke.

The third document of interest in Pauline Rivelli’s article is a letter from Burnie to Pauline. Here it is in its entirety.

Of course, the name on the headstone is irrelevant to the question of Bix’s legal middle name and the assertion that “He was baptized Leon Bix Beiderbecke” is undocumented. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the letter is the date: Dec 10, 1962, a few weeks after Pauline Rivelli requested a certificate of birth for Bix from Scott County.
I remark that Burnie misspelled Bismark as Bismarck.

What does it all mean? In 1963 Marie Louise was in Massachusetts and the closest relative in Davenport was Burnie. It is very likely that the amendment was requested/made by Burnie. Why? Royalties from compositions copyrighted by Bix? We don’t know. What did the B stand for in the birth records of Scott County, book 6, page 24? It is possible that the birth records have B for Leon’s middle name. The fact that B appears in the county and state certificates may indicate that indeed the original records have just B for the middle name. But is this likely? How many people have a letter for a middle name? Harry S Truman?

I wondered if Elmer Jens was still alive. He is not. From a genealogical tree I found out the following.

Name: Elmer JENS
Born: 16 JAN 1897 at: Iowa
Married: 25 FEB 1914 at: Iowa (probably Davenport or Blue Grass)
Died: 12 DEC 1978 at: Davenport, Iowa
His wife was Anna Peterson. His father, John Jens, was born in Germany. I note that Burnie was born in 1895 and Marie Louise in 1898. In the early 1900s when Elmer Jens, Burnie ans Sis went to school, Davenport was a very small community and it is possible that they went to the same schools, thus an acquaintance –and maybe a friendship- between Elmer Jens and Burnie is a good possibility. This provides circumstantial evidence for the speculation that Elmer Jens mentioned to Burnie that a certain person from New York (Pauline Rivellli) had asked for a copy of Leon’s birth certificate.

We need to find out what is in page 24 of book 6 in the birth records of Scott County and in Iowa State File 82-03-370.