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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

Riverboat Shuffle. Original 1924-29 Recordings

Riverboat Shuffle
Davenport Blues
Singin’ the Blues
For no reason at all in C
Three blind mice
Krazy Kat
In a mist
Royal Garden Blues
Goose pimples
Wringin’ an’ twistin’
Since my best gal turned me down
Thou swell
The love nest
Ol’ Man River
Futuristic rhythm
Somebody stole my gal

Bix Beiderbecke, cornet and piano with
The Wolverines, Bix and his Rhythm Jugglers, Frankie Trumbauer and his orchestra, Bix Tram and Eddie
NAXOS JAZZ LEGENDS 8.120584 [54.17]


The bulk of these recordings date from 1927-28 with one each from the years 1924, 1925 and 1929. As a single issue devoted to a major musician it contains the usual classics but turns up a couple of oddball selections – who amongst Beiderbecke admirers will easily submit to the voiceless crooning of the extraordinary Charles Gaylord? And, once having suffered that, who would forgive even Frankie Trumbauer for inflicting his vocal on an unsuspecting decade in Futuristic Rhythm, a case for Trades Description if ever there was one.

The problem with this disc is not the selection of records. Bix’s flattened blue notes in Riverboat Shuffle and his rhythmic acuity are remarkable over 75 years later. His Edward Macdowell-and-Debussy-inspired impressionism at the keyboard remains a curiosity and an affecting one. His cornet with its notes punched like bullets draped in velvet is still one of the most beautiful things in all jazz; we can hear Trumbauer, with Sidney Bechet the most accomplished saxophonist in the twenties, Coleman Hawkins not excluded. We can also hear Since my best gal turned me down in which the hilarious slowings down and speedings up anticipate the Eddie Condon band routines in the years to come. Untidiness is present in Goose pimples where, at 1.49, Bix makes a false entry. And Singin’ the Blues is just of the many markers of his greatness – listen to his ride out choruses to marvel again at his delicacy and power.

No, the problem is not the selection though many will find it weak. The problem is the sound. There is a low level hum on many tracks that is simply unacceptable. On the earliest, from the 1924 Riverboat Shuffle, it is quite evident. On the most famous disc, Singin’ the Blues, it is quite ruinous. Elsewhere the sleeve-note writer repeats the idea that Beiderbecke’s name was Leon Bismark, a claim I thought had been buried twenty-five years ago. It really was Leon Bix – his father was Bismark Herman. Track selections, with recording dates and matrix numbers, are unhelpfully separated from the personnel details. If you want to know who plays on what you turn the page and check by recording date. If you can that is – a typo means that a claimed date of 9 October is actually 5 October. And so on.

Jonathan Woolf


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