For over half a century, dedicated fans have dreamed of a permanent museum and archive to preserve the memory of the world-famous Bix Beiderbecke and his music. The long-planned Bix Beiderbecke Museum and Archive opens to the public on Monday, July 24, 2017, in its new home at the River Music Experience in Bix’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa.
Born in Davenport in 1903, Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke gained fame as a self-taught jazz cornet player with a unique sound. Considered a musical prodigy, and gifted with both perfect pitch and a phenomenal musical memory, Bix could pick out tunes on the piano by the time he could reach the keys. Bix heard jazz when his brother came home from the service and bought a Victrola. Bix fell in love with the recordings of Tiger Rag and Skeleton Jangle. He borrowed a cornet from a neighbor and taught himself to play. The riverboats with musicians from New Orleans also brought jazz music up the Mississippi River.
The new museum honors the life and music of the Bix Beiderbecke and features many original artifacts related to Beiderbecke and his colleagues, as well as a life-size figure of the cornetist in a recreation of the bandstand at Hudson Lake, Indiana. Bix spent his summer there is 1926 playing with the Goldkette Orchestra.
Visitors can see original instruments played by Bix, including the only piano Bix owned. The museum takes the visitor chronologically through the life of Bix Beiderbecke. His music is featured throughout the museum, along with videos, interactive displays, and photos, many shown for the first time. The entire museum evokes the era of the 1920s.
“The new Bix Beiderbecke Museum is important addition to Davenport, the Quad Cities, and the musical world,” says Randy Sandke, professional musician, author, and co-chair of the Bix Beiderbecke Museum campaign. “Almost a hundred years after he died, Bix’s music is still listened to and loved around the world. He anticipated so many musical styles, and his compositions for trumpet and piano are different in style but similar in expression—both feel wistful and with a sense of longing.”
Among the artifacts are family photographs and objects from the Beiderbecke family purchased from Elizabeth Beiderbecke-Hart, and a vast collection of correspondence and recorded interviews with Bix’s friends and fellow musicians, purchased from musician and jazz historian Scott Black. This collection, the life’s work of Phil and Linda Evans, is comprised of about 40 boxes of rare historical material that will eventually be available to researchers. Evans’ books “Bix: the Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story” and “Bix, Man and Legend” (with Richard Sudhalter) are based on material from this collection.
“We are so pleased the Bix Beiderbecke Museum is finally coming to fruition to recognize one of the Quad Cities’ legends,” says Howard Braren, co-chair of the Bix Beiderbecke Museum campaign. “We received a lot of generous support from the community and from Bix fans and collectors.”
The Bix Beiderbecke Museum is in the lower level, fondly referred to as the “Root Cellar”, of the Redstone building located at 2nd and Main Street in downtown Davenport, Iowa. This building is also home to the River Music Experience. Starting Monday, July 24, the new Bix Beiderbecke Museum is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, and $3 students (12-18 years). For more information, visit www.bixmuseum.org
The future accompanying Archive will house the most extensive collection of material found anywhere relating to the renowned musician.
The new museum will be open in advance of the 46th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival on August 3-5, 2017, at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport. The Bix Jazz Festival celebrates the life and musical contributions to jazz by Bix Beiderbecke over three days at his birthplace city alongside the Mississippi River. Fans attend from all over the world, not only to enjoy the music, but also to visit some of the places where Bix played, his boyhood home, his church, and his burial place in Oakdale Memorial Gardens in Davenport.
Bix has been the subject of two movies, many major books, a Lalo Schifrin symphony, Carnegie Hall performances, selection to the International Jazz Hall of Fame, and more.
General chairs for the Bix Museum campaign are Howard Braren, Rock Island, Ill., family member and retired fundraising consultant; and Randy Sandke, Shohola, Penn., jazz musician and Bix authority. Honorary chairs are George Avakian, record producer and jazz historian; Hoagy Bix Carmichael; Dick Hyman, pianist and composer; Dan Morgenstern, Director Emeritus of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies; Vince Giordano, Grammy-winning bandleader and jazz historian; and David Sager, archivist, Library of Congress National Jukebox.
The River Music Experience (129 Main St. in Davenport, Iowa) exists to give Quad Cities residents and visitors opportunities to experience America’s music, and most especially the music of the Mississippi River, through live music performances and programs which nurture, educate and inspire musicians, and music appreciators. www.rivermusicexperience.org
Located on the Mississippi River, Moline/East Moline and Rock Island are the riverfront cities in Illinois, and Bettendorf and Davenport make up the cities on the Iowa side of the river. Together, these cities and the surrounding communities form the Quad Cities. www.visitquadcities.com