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Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend by Jean Pierre Lion

In his introduction, noted Bix-ologist Richard Sudhalter calls this “the Bix book jazz fans have been awaiting”–high praise, considering that, in the ’70s, Sudhalter himself coauthored a highly regarded bio of the ill-starred trumpeter. As a fairly newly minted Bix Beiderbecke fan, I have to agree. Author Jean Pierre Lion has indeed surpassed previous biographers in compiling extant material on the trumpeter.

He presents a prosaic but exhaustive chronology of Beiderbecke’s life based on known recording dates, personal correspondence, newspaper stories and advertisements, gig info and other sources. Of particular value is the way in which Lion puts Beiderbecke’s work in the context of the day’s current musical events; parallels with the art and career of Louis Armstrong are especially instructive. Much of Lion’s writing takes the form of ordinary critical analysis, mostly descriptive in nature and not particularly enlightening. On the other hand, his method of considering Beiderbecke’s recording activities from one day to the next gives one a renewed appreciation of the trumpeter’s monumental output within a very short span of time.

This isn’t the world’s most thrilling read, but it’s an important work that shines welcome light on an important figure.

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