In the beginning of the twentieth century jazz was a new and developing, and yet very important and popular style of music. Full of improvisations and energy, great mood and various interesting techniques, this style was incredibly attractive for the musicians of all kinds. Many talented people played their jazz music creating a massive influence on the genre and its history. Among the most well known and influential jazz musicians of their era were Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke.
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Armstrong played an important role in the process of development of jazz music. His popularity is worldwide. Armstrong appeared in many films, wrote autobiographies and was loved and admired for his very special voice and singing style (Daniels, par. 1). The start of this musician’s popularity happened during the beginning of the World War I in New Orleans.
Armstrong learned and improved his musical skills and the abilities to read music while he worked as a member of a riverboat band. Armstrong moved from band to band and from city to city trying to fit into different groups, where he had to stay in the shadow of more famous musicians. His first records appeared in 1920s and 1930s, then his tours started and his fame grew.
Bix Beiderbecke lived a short life due to his heavy drinking. He earned recognition because of his special talent for improvisation and his pure and cheerful tone. Bix was a raw talent, but he never learnt to read the music properly (Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, par. 1). His first records were made together with Wolverine Orchestra.
He quit that Orchestra and soon joined Original Dixieland Jass Band, but he did not stay with them long, he was fired for his lack of musical education. Bix’s famous solo piece called “In a Mist” was recorded together with Frankie Trumbauer’s Orchestra. Bix spent his best years with Whiteman’s Orchestra, earned a lot of money and admiration, but the fame encouraged his drinking and soon he got delirium tremens, which slowed down his career.
Bix Beiderbecke’s style and career were influenced by a well known band of that time called Original Dixieland Jass Band. The band included five people. They announced themselves as “the creators of jazz” (Original Dixieland Jass Band, par. 1). This statement reflects such important feature of the social conditions of that time as racism. The band consisted only of white men and they played within the musical style started by the African-Americans, yet they claimed to be its inventors.
Today jazz is well known as the genre mainly played by the musicians of African-American origin, and Bix Beiderbecke is still famous for being an outstanding white guy, who played fantastic jazz music. Armstrong enjoyed playing together with many well known jazz musicians; one of them was Joe Oliver (Armstrong, Louis, par. 5).
The young musician got under the influences of multiple people before becoming well known and creating a massive impact of his own. Both Armstrong and Beiderbecke are still very famous in the world of jazz music, their styles are easy to recognize due to many peculiarities and special traits. Both talents are admired and copied by the followers.
Political and social conditions, which occurred during the lifetimes of both musicians, were poor and difficult. First of all, in 1917 the First World War burst out. It was accompanied by great dangers, increasing level of crimes, disturbing social situations, multiple waves of immigration to the United States. Bix’s parents did not approve of his desire to join musical career and sent him to military school, which affected his education, as a result Bix had problems trying to find a job, as his theoretical musical skills and knowledge were poor.
Liquor prohibition that was active at that period of time in the United States did not stop Bix Beiderbecke from consuming large portions of alcohol, having a drinking addiction and becoming ill. Louis Armstrong faced a lot of difficulties finding an employment during the times of the War. Besides, the high rate of criminal activity in the country led Armstrong to the incident that happened in 1912 when he fired a pistol in the air during the New Year’s Eve celebration and was arrested for that.
The Great Depression of 1930s also influenced Armstrong, he lost several jobs, moved to Los Angeles and was taken to jail for marijuana possession. It took Armstrong a lot of effort to keep his work and popularity going. He did a lot of touring around the United States and Europe during the times of Great Depression.
Louis Armstrong’s special style is also described as “hot jazz”. This approach originally appeared in the beginning of the 1900s right in the area were Armstrong came from – New Orleans (Teichroew, par. 1). This stream was later carried out of the region of New Orleans and spread all over the country. Hot jazz also created many blends when it mixed together with other musical genres such as blues or ragtime. The stream of hot jazz was popular up to the beginning of the 1930s.
This was the time when swing bands took over and occupied all the vacancies in the American clubs. In the bands created by Louis Armstrong called Hot Five and Hot Seven the musical emphasis was made on the solos and improvisations. The beauty of the hot jazz is in its flowing structure of the tone and the magical harmony between all the instruments involved.
Bix Beiderbecke’s music is more reflective. If we look at his background and history of his musical career, this musician spent most of his years playing in bands where he had to be a part of the team and he did not create many solo pieces. Bix’s music reflects the main style of the era he lived in and the area where he worked.
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The sounding of Beiderbecke’s pieces fits perfectly into the commercial preferences of the audience of that time. For a long time Bix had to work with groups of musicians, who already had own style and were stable bands. Being among such bands he learnt to adjust to their tunes and melt into their melodies perfectly. This is why Bix’s style is reflective.
Comparing the two musicians, I have to notice that Beiderbecke’s improvisation is quite different to the style of Armstrong. First of all, Bix’s works were not directed to make the musician stand out, he was dependent from the styles of more experienced and educated people around him, this is why his raw talent did not open up fully.
At the same time, Armstrong has gone past the stage of being dependant and grew into a famous artist with own peculiarities. Besides, the standard set of instruments for the hit jazz band included trumpet, drums, clarinet and banjo, while the bands where Bix Beiderbecke played also involved piano, sometimes violins and tuba.
The reasons of such difference between the amounts of fame each of these great musicians received are not hard to understand. Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong lived very different lives. They both had the urge to become well known and to express their talents in multiple ways; they both went looking for development and acceptance. They both had to face serious difficulties and make important choices. Beiderbecke and Armstrong’s lives were influenced by the political and social shifts in the world around them.
These musicians lived during the times of a massive War that shocked the humanity, the Great Depression, they were undergoing many negative influences happening in the society of the United States, for example the development of Mafia and the growing rate of criminal activity. Sometimes these historical conditions were throwing the musicians into the wrong directions. Louis Armstrong was a disciplined man, he was purposeful.
His strong desire to stand out, to prove his talent and improve his professional skills gradually led him to success. At the same time, Beiderbecke lived a very short life, he died at the age of twenty eight from serious illnesses caused by his lifestyle and habits. Bix simply did not have time to demonstrate the full power of his talent.
He died at the period of maturing as a musician, he worked and improved a lot, but his path of an artist never had the logical development due to his early death (Beiderbecke, Leon, “Bix”, par. 8). Armstrong lived a long and productive life and went through all the stages of a successful career; this is why his popularity is so huge compared to Beiderbecke’s.
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Daniels, Patricia. Louis Armstrong: A Masterful Trumpet Player. 2014. Web.
Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke Web. RedHotJazz. Web.
Original Dixieland Jass Band. RedHotJazz. Web.
Teichroew, Jacob. Hot Jazz. 2014. Web.