Despite living in the Quad Cities nearly 20 years I have only a rudimentary knowledge of local jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. I feel like I am missing out on an important part of local lore.
In the graphic biography Bix by Scott Chantler, the musician’s story is illustrated rather than told. With the use of wordless, static, straight panels we get a sense of Bix’s confining young life when in school and interacting with his parents, particularly his father. As a reader, I can feel the panels trying to fit him into a box, making me feel claustrophobic for the protagonist. Finally the panels begin to float and dance on the page whenever music is in the scene — whether hearing it pass on a riverboat, trying the trumpet for the first time or upon entering a Chicago jazz club.
Once Bix makes the decision to leave Iowa and dedicate his career to music he leads a life typical of young adults: work, good times, and romance. Just when I started to think of Bix as a nice guy who got swept up in talent and fame come scenes that show an in-demand, cocky musician willing to lie and manipulate. In this graphic biography, we don’t hear Bix speak until this part of the book — about a third of the way through. His first conversation? A lie he tells his girlfriend. Bix becomes difficult to work with and unreliable. Static panels return to show drinking as a default reaction to everything — both good and bad. As his drinking spiraled out of control, my heart broke for the lost talent.
I was pleased to catch the familiar scenes of Davenport in the early pages. It took me the better part of an afternoon to read, but the time was spent getting a better sense of of who Bix was beyond his connection to the Quad-Cities. The life of Bix Beiderbecke doesn’t fit neatly into a box. He wasn’t just a ground-breaking, successful jazz soloist. He wasn’t just a wide-eyed innocent guy in over his head. This graphic novel treats its subject with compassion and care while not forgiving him for his self-destructive behavior. Through artful storytelling I have a better understanding of Bix’s multilayered life.
Bix is available on Overdrive as well as physical format.
After someone dies, loved ones are left to pick up the pieces. That usually means sorting through personal possessions and reading through the will. Secrets can be revealed during this time leaving loved ones to wonder who exactly the deceased was in life and why they were hiding some things. Lisa Jewell discusses the topic of secrets in her 2013 novel, Before I Met You.
Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell tells the story of two women growing up decades apart. In 1990s grungy London Soho, Betty Dean has arrived to find the mysterious Clara Pickle. Clara was listed as the main beneficiary in her grandmother Arlette’s will. No one in her family has ever heard of Clara Pickle. Arlette never mentioned her. Going through her grandmother’s possessions, Betty finds hints tucked in coat pockets and hidden in books. Betty has always dreamed of getting out of Guernsey and moving to Soho. Trying to find Clara provides Betty with the perfect reason to head to Soho and begin a new glamorous life filled with excitement and hope.
In 1920s Jazz Age London, Arlette finds herself on the doorstep of her mother’s childhood best friend. Becoming friends with the woman’s daughter, Arlette quickly becomes drawn into the bohemian lifestyle of the Bright Young People. Arlette is beautiful and charismatic, but a bit sheltered since she spent all of her life before London growing up on the quiet and secluded island of Guernsey. Arlette is looking for love, a change, and acceptance now that the war is over. Two years later, Arlette’s new life is on course to give her what she wants. Right when she is ready to settle down, tragedy strikes and Arlette heads back to Guernsey where she stays for the rest of her life.
Betty searches high and low for Clara. While doing so, she learns even more secrets about Arlette’s life in London during the 1920s. Glamour, fashion, and music all played major roles in both women’s lives. Betty uncovers photographs and stories about Arlette’s life. She soon realizes that Arlette had major reasons for keeping her past firmly in her past.
While this is an older book, I enjoyed the topics discussed throughout. The parallels between Betty’s life in Guernsey and London in the 1990s as compared to Arlette’s life in the same places in the 1920s were so striking that I was left to wonder continuously throughout whether Betty would make the same life choices as Arlette. Betty’s journey to find Clara was fascinating because she kept searching for answers even when people told her to give up. Read the book and let me know what you think in the comments below!
This book is also available in the following format:
Thanksgiving has barely passed and I’m already sick to death of the holiday glut of Mariah Carey and “Feliz Navidad” – if you too crave some alternative holiday tunes, pick up these library items to rejuvenate your playlist.
Yule b Swingin Too – a jazzy, swinging mix of old favorites with a vibrant, fun feel.
Midwinter Graces by Tori Amos – A lush mix of standard classics, re-imagined favorites, and new material from the celebrated singer.
Christmas with the Stars – Orchestral, instrumental, vocal, classical, popular, and ensemble: this album combines styles seamlessly for a joyous effect.
Songs of Joy and Peace by Yo-Yo Ma – Yo-Yo Ma’s famous cello skills make this album a relaxing, joyous listen.
Kwanzaa Music – with tracks from artists like Aretha Franklin and the Baha Men, this eclectic collection gives you a celebratory mood with none of the bland predictability of a usual holiday album.
Christmas Cocktails 1 and 2 – the unique ‘ultra-lounge’ style of these albums puts a fun vintage twist on your holiday listening.
The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album – Who doesn’t love their classic “Little Saint Nick”?
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector – the legendary producer’s Christmas album is really delightful. Classic and well loved without being overplayed.
40 years of a Charlie Brown Christmas – A true classic brimming with childhood whimsy.
It’s that time again – Davenport puts on it’s party hat (and running shoes) and hosts the annual Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival and the world-renowned Bix 7 Road Race. There’s plenty for everyone – music, shopping, running (or walking) so get out there and soak up some of the great atmosphere that helps define the city of Davenport.
Because of the crowds and chaos in the downtown, the Main Library will be closed all day on Saturday, July 24. However, both the Fairmount Branch Library and the Eastern Avenue Branch library will be open their regular hours, 9:30am to 5:30pm. Main will reopen on Monday at usual.
And be sure to check the blog next week and find out how our own Bill did in his first Bix 7 race!
Have a great holiday weekend!
Just in case you’re new to the Quad Cities, here’s a heads up – this is a big weekend for events in Davenport! The Bix 7 road race, featuring world-class runners and ordinary-Joes alike, gets started at 8am today. And then the celebration of all things Bix Beiderbecke gets going with the Bix Biederbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, filling the Davenport riverfront and various locations with the sounds of jazz.
Because of the crowds and congestion, the Davenport Main Library will not be open today, Saturday July 25. However, the Fairmount Branch library will be open their usual hours, 9:30am to 5:30pm. Both buildings will be open their regular hours on Monday.
Now get out there and soak up some jazz! Have a great weekend!
It’s time again to celebrate one of Davenport’s own – the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival kicks off today with the 22nd annual Davenport Library Bix Porch Party at our Main library. There’ll be live music – provided by Don Estes and the Prairie Ramblers – hot dogs and free lemonade and popcorn. It all starts at 11:30am.
Interested in hearing more of Bix’s music? Be sure to check out Riverboat Shuffle or Bix Lives! from the library. If you’d like to learn more about the brilliant but brief life of Bix and the era he lived in, take a look at Remembering Bix: a Memoir of the Jazz Age by Ralph Berton or Bix: Man and Legend by Richard Sudhalter.
And don’t forget – grab a lawn chair and head to the Main Library for lots of great music and fun!
The annual celebration of the music of Bix Beiderbecke is in full swing today and tomorrow. Be sure to get out there and participate, whether you’re running or walking in the nationally renowned Bix 7 road race or enjoying music of some of the world’s finest musicians at the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival.
Just a reminder, because of the congestion in downtown Davenport today, the Main library will be closed. The Fairmount Street library will be open 9:30am-5:30pm. Both buildings will be open their regular hours on Monday.
Have a great weekend!
Help us kick off the Bix Festival on Thursday, July 24, at 11:30 AM, at the 21st Annual “Bix Porch Party,” a block-party featuring live jazz music from Don Estes and The Prairie Ramblers, located in front of the Davenport Public Library Main Street location (321 Main Street). This free event is for people of all-ages. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets as we block off Main Street for a fun-filled free afternoon of music, popcorn, lemonade, and party favors! Hot dogs will sold at bargain prices as a fundraiser for the Teen Volunteer Council. Stop in the Library afterwards and visit the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center to learn more about Bix and to see the display of Bix Jazz Festival posters. It’s never too soon to start having fun!