Bix at 1600 Broadway
The 10-story building at 1600 Broadway –in the heart of Times Square- was built in 1902. When it opened, it housed, in the first floor, a showroom for the horse-driven, luxury carriages of the Studebaker Brothers. In the 1910s, the Mutual Film Company had offices and storage space in the building. Charlie Chaplin was under contract with the Company from 1916 to 1918. In the 1920s and 1930s it housed the Max Fleischer studios: the first Betty Boop animated cartoon was created there in 1930 and the popular Popeye was added in 1933 to the cast of Fleischer’s cartoon characters. In 1939, the ground floor was remodelled to house the “Ripley Believe It or Not! Odditorium” ("Curioddities From 200 Countries").
It was announced early in November 2004 that the building will be demolished and replaced by a 25-story, 136-unit apartment tower.
The Wolverine Orchestra at the Cinderella Ballroom.
Bix joined the band at the Stockton Club, Hamilton, Ohio, late in October 1923. The band did not have much of a repertoire. One of the numbers they played quite often was Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wolverine Blues.” Thus, the band took up the name “Wolverine Orchestra.” Late in 1923, the band consisted of Bix on cornet, Jimmy Hartwell on clarinet, Bob Gillette on banjo, Dick Voynow on piano, Ole Vangsnesss on tuba/bass saxophone, George Johnson on tenor saxophone, and Bob Conzelman on drums. In January 1924, the Wolverines opened at Doyle’s Dancing Academy. Conzelman was replaced by Vic Moore, and Vangsness by Wilford “Min’ Leibrook. With the addition of Al Gandee on trombone, the Wolverine orchestra made its recording debut at the Gennett studios –the cradle of recorded jazz- in Richmond, Indiana on February 18, 1924. One of the numbers waxed on that day was “Jazz Me Blues” which features the first extended (20 bars) solo by 20-year old Bix. It is interesting to point out that the solo was played, note for note, four months later, by Red Nichols in the George Olsen recording of “You’ll Never Get To Heaven with Those Eyes.”
The Wolverines spent the winter, spring and summer of 1924 in various cities in the Midwest. Early in September, they left the Midwest and arrived in New York City for an engagement at the Cinderella Ballroom in the building at 1600 Broadway. The Wolverines opened on September 12, 1924. This must be viewed as a major achievement: a band of youngsters from the Midwest appearing in one of the top dance halls on Broadway.Abel Green, a writer for Variety, wrote, in the September 24, 1924 issue of the weekly magazine, the following review.
Adrian Rollini’s Orchestra at the Club New Yorker.
Bix was with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra (for the second time) from May 1926 to September 1927. Although the band was very well regarded, financial considerations resulted in its dissolution. The last engagement of the band was on September 18, 1927 at Roseland –the site, one year earlier, of the battle of the century between the Jean Goldkette and Fletcher Henderson orchestras. Several of the Goldkette musicians -joined the great bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini, who had secured an engagement at the Club New Yorker at 1600 Broadway beginning on September 22, 1927. The musicians in the band were Sylvester Ahola on trumpet, Bix on cornet, Bill Rank on trombone, Frank Trumbauer, Don Murray and Bobby Davis on reeds, Frank Signorelli on piano, Adrian Rollini on bass saxophone, Eddie Lang on guitar, Joe Venuti on violin and Chauncey Morehouse on drums. Although this was a formidable group of jazz musicians, they did not attract enough of a clientele to the Club to make the engagement economically feasible. Prices were high (a deluxe dinner was $2.50 with a la carte prices even higher) and, according to trumpeter Sylvester Ahola, the clientele was limited because liquor was not served. The Club New Yorker closed its doors on October 22, 1927, exactly one month after it had opened. This date marked the last appearance of Bix at 1600 Broadway.Although the engagement at the Club New Yorker had been a failure, Bix and Tram, and the other musicians in the band, recorded a number of excellent sides for Okeh under the names of Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra and Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. October 5, 1927 marked the debut of the Gang with such seminal recordings as “At the Jazz Band Ball,” “Royal Garden Blues,” and “Jazz Me Blues (this was the second time that Bix waxed the number).” Almost three weeks later, on October 25, 1927 –perhaps Bix’s most productive recording date- Bix and His Gang recorded three additional numbers (“Goose Pimples,” “Sorry,” and “Since My Best Gal Turned me Down”) and Bix and Tram managed to wax two sides (“Crying All Day” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”).
The Plaque at 1600 Broadway.The idea of a plaque in honor of Bix at 1600 Broadway came to Bixophile Paul Hutcoe (then in New York City, now deceased) when he learned that a concert in commemoration of Bix's music was to be held in Carnegie Hall in April of 1975. Several of the surviving musicians who had played with Bix were going to be present at the concert. Paul thought that Bix's fellow musicians could be invited to the unveiling of a plaque. With jazz musicians of the caliber of Paul Mertz, Chauncey Morehouse, Bill Rank, and Spiegle Willcox, and arranger Bill Challis, Paul Hutcoe was confident that the event would have even more historical significance. Paul Hutcoe paid for half the cost of the plaque and received contributions from Bill Donahoe - a member of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band and the man responsible for the establishment of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society in Davenport- and from several other Bixophiles. The plaque was unveiled on April 2, 1975. In addition to the musicians mentioned above, Virginia Horvath Morehouse, Chauncey’s wife, was present. Joe Venuti had been invited, but did not attend.
The plaque is no longer on the building at 1600 Broadway. Trying to recover it at this point has become a moot point. The building is scheduled for demolition. A landmark for New York City and a shrine for jazzophiles will be gone soon. History will receive another blow.Acknowledgments. I am grateful to Joe Giordano for illuminating discussions. The photographs were provided through the courtesy of Joe Giordano, Frank Driggs, and Rob Roth.
Captions for Images.
the early 1900s.
the early 1930s.
It Or Not at 1600 Broadway. 1939.
Orchestra at the Cinderella Ballroom. September 1924. Left to right:
Voynow, Bob Gillette, George Johnson, Min Leibrook, Vic Moore, Jimmy
New Yorkers at the Club New Yorker, September 1927. Left to right,
Sylvester Ahola, Bill Rank, Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Don
Signorelli; standing: Eddie Lang, Chauncey Morehouse, Adrian Rollini,
Davis, Joe Venuti.
Broadway. Photographed by Jack Bradley in 1975. Given to Joe Giordano
of the plaque
at 1600 Broadway. From left to right: Bill Challis, Spiegle Willcox,
Mertz, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Hutcoe, Bill Rank, Jeff Atherton and
Horvath Morehouse. Photographed by Jack Bradley. July 1975.