Tag Archives: bass saxophone

78: “At the Jazz Band Ball” b/w “The Jazz Me Blues” by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. Okeh 40923. Recorded in New York City, October 5, 1927.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.


Born in 1903 to a well-off German American couple in Davenport, Iowa, Leon Bismark Biederbecke was the youngest of three children. He was playing the piano by ear at the age of three; according to his sister, he would play it standing up with his arms up over his head to reach the keys. His ability to mimic almost any melody he heard was noted in the local paper when he was just seven years old, and he would often go to the cinema as a child not to enjoy the films, but rather to dash home afterwards to see if he could accurately play what he had just heard from the silent films’ piano accompaniment. His older brother had returned home from military service in 1918 with a Victrola in tow, thus giving Leon—now known by all by his nickname “Bix”—the opportunity to hear his first jazz records. Supposedly, he taught himself to play Cornet by copying The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s recordings of “Tiger Rag” and “Skeleton Jangle.”

Bix was not the best student, and his parents sent him off to the Lake Forest Academy in hopes that he would be taught discipline and direction. They didn’t account for the fact that the Academy was a short train ride away from Chicago, where Bix would escape to listen to bands like the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. For reasons both academic and alcoholic, Bix was expelled from the academy. He returned to Davenport to work for his father in 1923, but soon enough jumped at the opportunity to join The Wolverine Orchestra. Here he is with his recording debut, playing cornet on a beautifully restored recording of “Fidgety Feet.”

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78: “Arkansas Blues” b/w “The Wang Wang Blues” by The Goofus Five. Okeh 40817. Recorded in New York City, April 14, 1927.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

The California Ramblers were a successful dance band in the mid-1920’s. Managed by Columbia Records promoter Ed Kirkeby, the band was actually based in New York City. They adopted the California association (the band was sometimes known as The Golden Gate Orchestra) to appear exotic and fresh to East Coast audiences. A good example of their sound can be found here, in the jaunty, melodic little number called “Too Many Kisses In the Summer.”

Fun stuff. But the band wanted to also play jazz music, which, at the time, meant cutting down from an orchestra to a smaller combo. This group would need a new name. They were called The Little Ramblers when they recorded for Columbia. Kirkeby was smart enough to see that the same band could record under different names to get contracts with different record companies. When he signed them to Okeh Records, The Goofus Five were born. Why Goofus? Were they endearingly buffoonish? Continue reading

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