DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - Kelly Lao said despite many books and articles written about Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, the famed Davenport jazz legend remains somewhat of a mystery to many.
But visitors can learn more about the man and his family this summer through exhibits at the German-American Heritage Center in Davenport. The building features a new 10-by-30-foot canvas portrait of Bix on the rear façade of the building. It was created by Quad-City artist Bruce Walters.
The exhibit runs July 5 through Aug. 30 and is called “Zeitgeist: Bix Beiderbecke and the Spirit of His Times,” the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1U9wt2U ) reported.
Featured will be the mural and large panels created by Buck Henri, a Davenport native who lives and works as a professional artist in New York City. Additional Beiderbecke family photos from First Presbyterian Church and artifacts shared by local Bix collectors also will be part of the exhibit.
Lao, assistant director at the center, said members of the Beiderbecke family were German immigrants to the Quad-City area and were respected and prosperous members of the German community for decades.
“Another component of this is the historical and genealogical component, his German roots and background, and about the German-American community that flourished at that time,” she said.
For example, Lao said Bix’s grandfather, Carl, was part of the German Men’s Choir in Davenport and ran a grocery store in Davenport. Bix’s grandmother, Louise Pieper Beiderbecke, was a big supporter of what then was called the Tri-City Symphony.
“Bix was was a child prodigy. He played piano at a young age,” Lao said. “He had a love affair with jazz at a very young age. He was looked at as a rebel. His family really didn’t approve of his music, but we found out later, his family had all his records when he died in 1931.
“I think he is still an enigma. He was a hard nut to crack, even today. These people who have written books about him have different memories of him. He traveled all over to play with different bands. He actually died in New York at age 28. He had visited Davenport just before that.”
Walters, a professor of graphic design at Western Illinois University, Macomb, said Bix was a rock star in his day.
“He was the real deal,” he said. “He was like lightning in the bottle. He really changed things. I see jazz as really the voice of the early 1920s. The world was changing. Technology was changing and the music that captured the change.
“For the first time, more people were living in cities than in rural areas nationwide. And young jazz musicians were rock ‘n’ roll stars. They believed in this music, just like rock ‘n’ roll. And his parents hated this music.”
Walters agreed that Bix was a “troubled soul” whose drinking led to his early death. Still, he said, many do not appreciate the genius and impact of Bix on the music landscape.
“If jazz is anything, it is a melting pot of music,” Walters said. “It is a shame he died so young. But even with his handful of music, he was years ahead of everyone.
“He was in a band with Bing Crosby. They were drinking buddies. But the headliner was Bix. Bix was the star. He is sometimes called the father of cool jazz. I think we have taken him for granted. Davenport is sitting on a real treasure.”
Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com
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