Nobody played the cornet like Bix.
The legacy of groundbreaking jazzman Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke will be honored with a free, outdoor concert featuring – what else? – his music on Saturday, August 6, in Sunnyside. (The Iowa native lived many years in apartment 1G at 43-30 46th St. off Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside.)
The 16th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Concert will kick off at 6 p.m. at Bliss Plaza, which is directly under the 7 train’s 46th Street station. (Please note the change of location. In past years, the event took place at the Sunnyside Arch.)
As they do every year, the Sunnyside Wolverines, a local jazz band, will take the stage, and some members will probably wear flapper outfits. After the show, Paul Maringelli, who founded this annual gig in 2001, will lead a procession to Bix’s former apartment.
Born on March 10, 1903, Bix was one of the greatest jazz musicians of the Roaring ’20s. He had a self-taught, unorthodox style of playing the cornet that produced a distinctive tone and timbre described as “bullets hitting a bell.” He was also a master of improvisation who got regular work with the era’s brightest stars, such as Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, and Hoagy Carmichael.
However, Bix had a drinking problem and suffered a nervous breakdown in 1930. He was only 28 years old when he was found dead in his Sunnyside apartment on Aug. 6, 1931. (This Saturday’s event is going to happen exactly on the 85th anniversary of his passing.) There’s speculation that he had drunk too much illegally made, toxic alcohol during Prohibition, but pneumonia was probably the main cause.
Though he died young and a long time ago, he has a large following even these days. There’s an annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, Iowa in July and there’s the Tribute to Bix Beiderbecke that takes place every year in Racine, Wisc., on the weekend closest to March 10 (his birthday).