‘Bix’ Review: A Jazz Legend Fondly Remembered
While this iteration of that 1981 documentary is a restoration, don’t go see “Bix: ‘Ain’t None of Them Play Like Him Yet’” while waiting for a shiny cinematic item. The film looks like a 40-year-old mix of talking and archival footage. What makes him extraordinary is the story he tells of a strange musician and his wonderful playing and songs.
Born in 1903, Bix Beiderbecke did not live to be 30 years old, but he left his mark on jazz which is still felt today. He grew up in Davenport, Iowa, in a close German-American family. Child prodigy, Beiderbecke first fell in love with jazz via the frantically bouncy melody “Tiger Rag”. But he also devoted himself to the work of Debussy and Ravel, and he brought their dreamy impressionism to his music. This influence persisted in jazz for decades. (It is said that before recording “Kind of Blue” in 1959, Miles Davis and pianist and composer Bill Evans seriously listened to a performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto.)
Among the luminaries contributing to the reminiscences are Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw and Doc Cheatham. Louis Armstrong, in an audio recording, invents the phrase that gives the film its subtitle. That director Brigitte Berman does not give more weight to the racial segregation that characterized the jazz scene of the 1920s testifies to a blind spot that was all too present when she made the film. But the film cites Beiderbecke’s devotion to Bessie Smith, as well as her playing in built-in jam sessions.
The testimonies of Beiderbecke’s formidable ear – a protean soloist on the cornet, he composed on the piano – and of his shyness are moving. Exhaustion and boredom of life on the road tripped Beiderbecke with alcoholism, leading to other health problems. Conventional wisdom in some circles holds that the existence of a musician in concert is somewhat reckless; this film painstakingly exposes how it can be practically fatal.
Bix: “None of them play like him yet”
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 56 minutes. In theaters.
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