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Dick Hyman: Thinking About Bix

Dick Hyman’s recordings on the Reference label are works of both art and scholarship. The new Thinking About Bix is especially valuable. The music composed by and associated with Bix Beiderbecke is currently at risk from the ravages of time.

“Singin’ the Blues,” backed by “I’m Coming, Virginia,” was the first Bix record Hyman ever heard, in 1938. (He still owns it, a 78-rpm shellac.) He plays both tunes here, with “scene-setting introductions,” original arrangements, interpolated piano choruses, piano recreations of some of Eddie Lang’s guitar fills, and notations of solos by saxophonist Frank Trumbauer. The transcriptions of Bix’s iconic cornet solos, here and throughout the album, mysteriously transcend themselves. It is as if portraying them on piano turns them into runes, or pure melodic code.

Beiderbecke only recorded one of the four impressionistic works that make up his Modern Piano Suite. “In a Mist,” “Candlelights,” “In the Dark” and “Flashes” are poetry. They are like Ravel or Scriabin miniatures-if Bix, Ravel or Scriabin had been born in Davenport, Iowa. Hyman faithfully, elegantly renders them, and then, in the spirit of Bix, who never played anything the same way twice, invents his own embellishments and variations.

Originally Published