Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Time Machine

It’s a fool’s game to try and copy Bix. Go and listen to “Somebody Stole My Gal."

It’s not just his solo. It’s the whole record. He just kicks the whole band in the ass and makes them play. I can tell you that this is something that no mere mortal can accomplish – only the occasional genius like Mozart.

I don’t try to copy Bix. I hear the kind of things he did and let them mingle with all of my musical ideas. There’s a melancholy – a kind of suffering or depression- that is hard to describe in Bix’s playing. When you listen to him you hear the madness of his life, the romance, the mood swings. The same characteristic is in Hemingway, Lincoln, Churchill and other great figures whose melancholy became famous parts of their lives.

While listening, I feel almost as if I were there with Bix, even though I was born ten years after his death. I’ve felt a spiritual connection with him since I was 13 years old. At the time, my father was completely absorbed and preoccupied in fixing his life, which had been destroyed by alcohol. He didn’t pay the slightest attention to me and I listened to record after record. I listened to them so many times it was easy to memorize. I was like a teenage girl who sang along with the radio.

Bix, like all artists, had limitations that defined his style. The great artist shapes what he is saying and that’s how he talks to you. Often, when someone talks with way too many words and with so much command of the language, the true meaning is lost. Bix was the antithesis of this. He used very few words – or notes – to make his point shrewdly.

The greatest jazz musicians can be recognized instantly after playing only a single note. Bix’s sound has been described by others as striking a chime with a soft, padded mallet. The big sound starts with a little explosion – but it was more than the sound – how he strung the notes together, the way he searched for a new, interesting way to twist the phrase.

There were characteristics in his music that are found nowhere else in music. Bix is one of a handful of great, original, American musical artists. That’s what I think.

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