Bix And Tram: Bix Beiderbecke with Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra

by George Avakian
From the liner notes of the 1947 78 RPM record collection "Bix And Tram: Bix Beiderbecke with Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra" on Columbia records.

The partnership of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and saxophonist Frank Trumbauer was one of the Damon and Pythias relationships which occasionally stud the history of jazz. From their first record dates together with mid-western pickup groups in the early twenties until Bix's untimely death in 1931, they were almost inseparable, working together in Trumbauer's Orchestra in St. Louis, then with Jean Goldkette. and finally with Paul Whiteman's enormous aggregation. They made a high living in the commercial dance bands of their day, and their individuality was not entirely lost in those big orchestras, for always there were sympathetic arrangers who gave them solo spots or opportunities to lead ensembles written in their personal styles. For purely personal kicks, they had recourse to jam sessions wherever they went-notably in Chicago and New York-and to a lesser degree they were able to express themselves more freely on their own recording dates. With their friends from the Goldkette and Whiteman bands, Bix and Tram (as Trumbauer was known) made numerous records with smaller combinations under their own names. This album of recordings, made originally for the Okeh label under Trumbauer's name, is a musical expression of the Bix/Tram relationship. Both played in essentially the same melodic style. Bix's cornet work was mellow in tone, supple and dexterous in execution, and always inventive in content. Trumbauer, playing a C-melody saxophone (an instrument virtually unknown to the present generation, but the rage of many a campus in the bath tub gin era), was such a close counterpart of Bix that there have been recorded passages in which it is possible to confuse one for the other for a few bars (as in the beginning of Bix's solo on Paul Whiteman's Sweet Sue. Of all the Bix-Tram collaborations, one stands out above all others as their greatest joint performance - and, in fact, is one of the landmarks of the "white" school of jazz. This is the famous record of Singin' The Blues, with Trumbauer playing the first chorus and Beiderbecke the second. So instantaneous a hit with their fellow musicians was this record that within a matter of weeks their colleagues were reproducing the Trumbauer and Bix solos whenever Singin' The Blues was played, and at least three bands have recorded (one as late as 1938) arrangements in which Trumbauer's solo has been transcribed for the saxophone section and Beiderbecke's chorus is played by the brass! Aside from musicians, anyone who had any pretense to collecting jazz records prior to the swing craze of the middle thirties knew the choruses well enough to whistle them through, for this record was one of the "musts" which decided whether you were an earnest collector or just a dallying dilettante. Bix's personal admiration for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, whose records he wore out by the dozens when he was a youngster, lies behind the recording of Clarinet Marmalade. Ostrich Walk, and Hoagy Carmichael's best jazz vehicle, Riverboat Shuffle. The two Dixieland favorites are taken at a fast clip, with Bix providing most of the punch and the best solos. Bixalways partial to "breaks" which gave him a chance to interpose inventions entirely on his own, was especially fond of Riverboat Shuffle, which Carmichael wrote with Bix and his original college band, the Wolverines in mind. It was a number, Carmichael explains, which had a harmonic structure not far removed from the blues and yet had a happy sound and plenty of opportunity for breaks.

Like Singin' The Blues, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans is already a classic which had musicians copying solos, particularly Bix's soberly enchanting chorus. Surprisingly enough, by present day standards, this tune is played as it was originally meant to be played - in slow tempo - and not as a stomp, which has become the accepted way. Baby, Won't You Please Come Home? features a Trumbauer vocal and Bix playing two solo choruses.* The second of these, following Trumbauer's solo, picks up with a twist on the same phrase with which Tram finishes his passage. Further evidence of the happy-go-lucky attitude which these recording sessions encouraged is Take Your Tomorrow, which opens with a playful introduction leading into melodic choruses by Trumbauer and Bix. Trumbauer sings the vocal with light accompaniment by Bix's muted horn, and everybody, starting with Bix, gets into the finale. Beiderbecke, who often declared that he'd rather be a pianist than anything else in the world, gets his chance on Wringin' An' Twistin' , a trio number in which he plays piano throughout, except for the coda, with Trumbauer on sax and Eddie Lang on guitar.

*Despite much speculation that Andy Secrest may have played one of these choruses, the accepted decision among most musicians and Bixophiles is that Beiderbecke is responsible for both solos.