Monday, March 15, 2010

Music Monday ~ Bix Beiderbecke

Last Christmas I bought my husband the Ken Burns DVD set of "JAZZ". His VHS tapes of the series were long ago lent out and seem to have found a new home. I'm sharing the enjoyment of watching the DVDs and learning more on a subject in which I'm something of an ignoramus.

At the weekend we watched an episode with detail about Bix Beiderbecke and his music. Noticing that he was born with Sun in Pisces I decided he'd be a good subject for Music Monday this week.

Beiderbecke, a legendary figure from the time known as "the jazz era": 1920s. He lived fast (on alcohol) and died young, aged 28, in 1931. He played piano probably before he could walk, had a naturally acute musical ear. Although he composed several pieces for piano, he had never learned to read music efficiently. Bix taught himself to play the cornet, eventually achieving a distinctive bell-like tone, different from anything else heard then. His parents, though, didn't support his draw towards a career in music, but he followed his heart anyway, against their wishes. He became one of the first white musicians to embrace jazz and execute it on a comparable level with his many black, African-American counterparts.

Jazz had been an exclusively "black music" 'til Bix and his peers came along. The sad and ugly aspect of this was that in the USA, in those days, white and black musicians were not allowed to play on the same stage or in the same band. Such a lot was lost in those dreadful years of segregation in the USA.

There are countless pieces about Bix Beiderbecke's life available on-line. Some variation in detail occurs within the legend that has inevitably grown up around this mucician since his untimely death. I enjoyed an article by Will Layman: The Gap, a paragraph from which sums up the pertinent points sufficient for this post:
Bix is arguably the prototypical jazz legend: a young guy with a horn who skipped school to dig his heroes in speakeasies and then was kicked out of school. He made some records and headed to New York where he was hired by the biggest band in the land. Then, tragically, he lived too hard and fast, slowing himself down with alcohol. Spiraling downward, he died in a rooming house in Queens after a final drinking binge at the tender age of 28.
In the middle of it all, however, were a series of gorgeous and singular cornet solos that transfixed fans, created generations of imitators, and even won the respect of older legends—indeed, Louis Armstrong himself dug Bix.

There is little hint of what the guy was like personality-wise, apart from his alcoholism, which reportedly reached a stage serious enough to bring on delirium tremens, with its confusions and hallucinations. I did find a brief clue to his nature here:

By all accounts, Bix was a kind, gentle, and generous man. He was an individual of few words, introspective, and unconcerned by the superficial details and demands of daily routine. Music was the all-consuming focus of his life, the essence of his being; and in music, he wrought his everlasting legacy.

Bix Beiderbecke was born on 10 March 1903 in Davenport, Iowa at 7 AM (Astrodatabank)

First thing I notice is that he had no planets in Earth signs to provide a touch of "grounding" to his nature. I always like to see a wee bit of Capricorn, Taurus or Virgo, as a kind of anchor, in the chart of anyone in show-biz. Bix had no such anchor. His Pisces Sun and Jupiter with Sagittarius rising (Jupiter rules both Pisces and Sagittarius) would account for him being seen as gentle, kind and generous. Pisces is famously introspective too - that covers all the factors mentioned in the quote above.

There are a couple of oppositions Saturn/Moon and Venus/Mars in this chart. These could be seen as symbolic of some inner conflict - perhaps that with his parents: in astrology Saturn represents the father and Moon the mother; Venus the feminine, Mars the masculine.

Uranus, planet of invention and the avant garde lies on his ascendant, the most potent point on the chart. This is a clear reflection of Bix's draw to jazz - the new musical genre of his times. If jazz has a planetary representative it simply has to be Uranus! Jazz is eccentric, inventive, and to the uninitiated onlooker can seem, at times, just plain peculiar and unexpected - in other words, typically Uranian.

Mercury(mental processes) in Uranus's rulership, Aquarius lies in sextile to Uranus providing the link which brought this eccentric musical style to the surface for Bix Beiderbecke. Usually, I'd look for links to Venus when investigating music in a chart, but in this case, Mercury and Uranus seem more appropriate.

One of the things I like about jazz, kid, is I don't know what's going to happen next. Do you? ~ Bix Beiderbecke

Playing Sorry


Anonymous said...

Here in my town in Iowa, Bix briefly attended the University and had a college radio show. For over 50 years, the station used to play a short Bix clarinet solo every day at noon in tribute. Oh it was a haunting melody, I'll never forget it. I tried to locate the song online so you could hear it, but I could not find it I wish I could hear it again myself. I haven't listened to the radio in years, I wonder if they still play the tune. I bet they do.

Wisewebwoman said...

I have none of his recordings, T. but have heard him. That DVD set sounds wonderful, I must track it down.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Hi! Lovely tribute to him! I've noticed that American cities and towns do tend to honor their well-known natives I'm always interested to find examples.

I asked my husband if he could guess what the song would be, but he couldn't - unless perhaps it was a piece from his composition "In a Mist" played on clarinet, or a solo from "Singing the Blues". :-)

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Yes, do! Ken Burns' stuff is always top notch and this is no exception. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of it.