Bugles for Beiderbecke               Bix Beiderbecke (German)
Bix Beiderbecke (British)            La Vita e la Leggenda di Bix Beiderbecke
The Bix Bands                            Bix Beiderbecke: Jazz Age Genius
Bix: Man and Legend                  Bix: The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story
Remembering Bix                        Bix. Bix Beiderbecke, une biographie

Example HR

"Bix: "Bix" Beiderbecke, une biographie" by Jean Pierre Lion.

Editor: Outre Mesure, Paris, France.
Published: 2004.
Number of Pages: 351.
Number of Photographs: 140
ISBN: 2-907891-29-4

Table of Contents



DAVENPORT, samedi 21 septembre 2002




(Most of the French words should be easily understood; an exception is felure which means crack.)

The book is produced as what we call in the US a trade paperback. It is printed with large margins. Bibliographic notes and comments are on the margins. The photographs are interspersed throughout the text (on the average, one every other page). The format reminds me very much of modern introductory chemistry textbooks where notes, references, and images are given throughout the book on large margins. It makes for a handsome and readable presentation. All photographs are in black and white with the exception of the photo on the cover. It is the famous 1924 photo of Bix in the colorized version from Indiana University (not University of Indiana as referred to in the credits for the cover.) See the photo in
Bix with rosy cheeks and pink lips? I have always objected -strongly- to colorizing films. I feel it is a desecration. I feel the same way about photos. The quality of the black and white photos is quite good, certainly, a lot better than the photos in Evans and Evans.

The bibliographic section is quite comprehensive and, in addition to the well-known biographies, jazz history books, and articles, it includes references to several books and articles in French.

The discography is available at

As to the main text, Jean Pierre takes a chronological approach. He provides information about Bix as well as about topics related to Bix and the times of his life -the jazz age, other artists, the prohibition, the depression, etc.

General Considerations.
When I first saw early drafts of “Bix: Bix Beiderbecke, une biographie” by Jean Pierre Lion, I told him that the book was inappropriate for a broad audience. Jean Pierre responded that my assessment was correct, that “une biographie” was a book written by a Bixophile for other Bixophiles. There is an extensive literature on Bix -biographies, comprehensive chapters in books, articles in magazines, memoirs, a 10-hour radio program, etc. Therefore, any assessment of the significance and value of the new biography for Bixophiles must be first placed in the context of books that preceded the book by Jean Pierre.

There is no question in my mind that the two most significant books written about Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz genius form Davenport, Iowa, are “Bix, Man and Legend” by Richard Sudhalter and Philip Evans with William Dean Myatt (Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York, 1974) and “Bix, The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story” by Philip Evans and Linda Evans (Prelike Press, Bakersfield, California, 1998).

“Man and Legend” is a book directed to a general audience as well as to the countless Bixophiles around the world. An educated individual who wants to learn more about Bix than what is usually found in capsule biographies in encyclopedias and reference books, would be wise to read this book: he/she will get a faithful and accurate picture of the essence of Bix’s life, of the special characteristics of Bix’s music that made him into a legend shortly after he died –if he was not already one during his lifetime. A Bixophile will be entranced by the in-depth view of the music and life of Bix Beiderbecke written in the excellent style we are accustomed to see in Sudhalter’s writings. For the Bixophile interested in the daily activities of Bix during his short (28 years) life, there is an appendix entitled “Who, What, Where & When, A Bix Beiderbecke Diary.” The book also includes an almost definitive discography. The book has been harshly criticized because of some errors of fact and because of the “recreated dialogues.” Errors of fact are almost inevitable in a comprehensive biography of any major artist, scientist or historical figure. Recreated dialogues were a literary license often utilized in biographies at the time Sudhalter and Evans book was published. In my estimation, it remains –even after 30 years- as the single, most important biography of Bix Beiderbecke.

“The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story” is not a biography to be read. It is a reference book which contains a lot of the information gathered by Philip Evans during 50 years of Bix research. The book is written in the form of a chronological diary. We find all extent letters written by Bix, quotes of musicians and people who knew Bix personally and were interviewed by Phil Evans in person, by telephone or by letter, a comprehensive discography, 250 photos including most of the known photos of Bix. I often refer to “The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story” as the Bible of the Bixophile or the required bed table companion of any self-professed, serious Bixophile.

“Bix Beiderbecke, une biographie” falls somewhere between “Man and Legend” and “The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story, ” but it is closer to the latter than to the former. The book is also written as a chronological account of Bix’s activities during his lifetime and, like Evans and Evans book (to which Jean Pierre acknowledges his debt) provides as closely a daily account of Bix’s life as it is possible. But unlike Evans and Evans, there is text linking the daily events and continuity in the writing.

The Book. Vital Statistics.
Trade paper back.
Publisher, Outre Mesure, Paris, 2004.
Preface by Delfeil de Ton, 2 pages.
Text, 294 pages.
Epilogue, 3 pages.
Acknowledgments, 1 page.
Documents, 10 pages.
Bibliography, 5 pages.
Discography, 19 pages.
Index, 13 pages.
120 photos interspersed in the text.

Positive aspects. Good presentation, wide margins with references and comments, decent image quality (mostly known, except those taken by the author).
Negative aspects. Low quality binding. In spite of my extreme care, the book is falling apart and several pages have come lose. Font in margins very small, difficult to read. Note: the binding has been corrected in a new run.

The Book. Content.

Positive Aspects.
Jean Pierre's biography of Bix includes a lot –if not most- of what is known about Bix’s life and recordings. The book could be briefly described as a gathering in one place of most of the information about Bix found in “The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story,” in “Man and Legend,” in “Tram, The Frank Trumbauer Story” by Philip Evans and Larry Kiner with William Trumbauer (The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J., 1994), in “Observing a Genius At Work” by Randy Sandke, in Hoagy Carmichael’s autobiographies, in Miami’s University radio program, in liners for Bix records, and several other sources listed at the end of the book. There is some new information in the book not available in previous biographies or writings. The author provides useful and interesting –in particular to a French reader- information about related topics regarding the 1920’s historical context and the jazz scene. There are several references to writings about Bix in the French literature (books, articles), and there is some new material about Lake Forest and the Keeley Institute. There are lots of references and the documentation is comprehensive.

Since the content of the book is a synthesis –with some additions and commentaries by Jean Pierre- of what is presented in other books, Bixophiles will be pleased to find all this information –with references- in one place. Sometimes, there is too much detail provided, which makes it for heavy reading; but specialists will be satisfied with the considerable amount of facts and data.

Jean Pierre told me that he made an extraordinary effort to be accurate. That is indeed the case: the book is remarkably free of errors, but, inevitably, knowledgeable readers will find them. I will list a few later.

Negative Aspects.
Although this section is longer than the section on positive aspects, readers should not get the impression that there are more negative aspects than positive aspects to the book. On the contrary, the book is quite a useful summary of a lot of information scattered in various sources. It turns out that the negative aspects are in areas which bother me particularly and therefore I feel obligated to discuss these in detail and at length.
What disturbs me in Jean Pierre's Bix biography is the psychological rationalization, some of the author’s opinions presented as facts, and some assumptions again presented as facts. Let me cite examples. These seem to be more abundant at the beginning of the book. [The text quoted is my translation of the original.]

“The strong attraction that Bix had toward music was accompanied by as vigorous a repulsion for all forms of education.”

How does the author know that? All known facts could be equally well understood if Bix simply ignored all forms of education. This may seem nitpicking, but there is a major difference between repulsion and neglect. Repulsion implies an active aversion. Neglect simply means a passive disregard. This affects the image of Bix that the reader creates in his/her mind as he/she reads along.

“Upon return to school in September 1912, the long absence of the pupil [Bix was absent from school for a long period in the 1911-1912 school year because of illness] forces him to stay back in third grade. This cherished child, publicly designated as a prodigy, accepted very badly the humiliation that repeating the grade represented in his eyes. And he made a decision heavy with consequences: that of declaring himself, from then on, as being outside a school system that denied him the special attention that he thought he deserved.”

Again, assumptions on the part of the author. The author does not have any basis to ascribe to Bix such thoughts. “Humiliation … in his eyes…” “He made a decision…” Where are the facts that corroborate how Bix felt and what he decided? The author does not know if repeating a grade represented for Bix a humiliation. It may be so for some or even most children, but not necessarily for Bix. Again, an equally plausible interpretation is that Bix did not care one way or the other. I am not talking about a factual error. This is a matter of interpretation. But the author presents it as a fact, and is building up in the reader’s mind an image of Bix that may well be totally misleading. Speculation may be acceptable when it is based on some evidence, but inventing what goes on inside Bix’s mind is, in my opinion, at least as egregious as reconstructing dialogue. How does the author know that Bix declared himself “outside a school system…” How does he know that Bix “thought” he deserved “special attention”?

“This humiliating incident [the arrest] will leave deep traces [scars?] in a young man already destabilized by school failure. The relationships with his family will be modified in an irreversible manner. The young prodigy, the exceptional child that his parents showed proudly, felt a sense of abandonment and shame: he was in his own eyes a failure, and he thought he was suspected of being a pervert. How could his mother still love him, when he no longer liked himself?”

Again, Jean Pierre speculates as to what went on inside Bix’s mind, what he thought! If, as it is possible –or perhaps likely- the charges were baseless, why would Bix feel that he was “in his own eyes a failure”? Does Jean Pierre believe that Bix indeed was guilty of the alleged offense? Details of the incident are left for a footnote. However, even in the footnote, the author fails to tell the reader that the house of the 5-year old girl was more than a mile away from Bix’s home and does not give an evaluation of the fact that the so-called identification of Bix is based on the sole testimony of two youngsters. Jean Pierre goes off into the realm of fiction, in my opinion, when he asserts that, because of the incident, Bix “no longer liked himself.” Speculation may be acceptable when it is based on some evidence, but inventing what goes on inside Bix’s mind is, in my opinion, and I repeat, egregious. Jean Pierre asks “how could his mother love him?” In asking that question he throws out the considerable body of evidence that demonstrates that Agatha loved Bix throughout his life.

‘This brutal separation [referring to the fact that Bix leaves home to attend to Lake Forest Academy] from his family environment …”

Why brutal? This creates an image of a Bix who does not want to leave his family and is forced to do so. Perhaps, the author, not being familiar with American habits, does not realize that it was (and is) customary for youngsters of the upper middle class to go away to college when they reached the age of 18. There is nothing brutal. In fact, most youngsters are very eager to leave home and go away to college. Of course, Bix could be an exception and going away to school could have been for him a “brutal separation,” but the fact is that we don’t know. Jean Pierre presents all his speculation in a matter-of-fact manner. This is particularly serious as the majority of the book presents a lot of factual information. Thus, the unaware reader may tend to accept all the inventions as incontrovertible facts.

“Bix is a rebel. He realizes that he refuses the model of his family –but being marginalized is painful.”

I don’t think so. The author hints –by prefacing the second sentence with the assertion that Bix is a rebel- that Bix is someone who purposely leads a life that goes against the values of his family, but suffers because of his decision. The image I have of Bix, from what people who knew him tell us, is that he was a relatively easy going individual whose life was devoted to his music, not “a rebel” with an agenda to abandon society’s and his family’s beliefs and principles.

“The young musician does not feel any esteem for his “art” [quotes in original], still so far away from an ideal that he does not perceive it could be within his reach. He smokes a lot, and the alcohol, which circulates in abundance in the places where his music brings him frequently, seems to provide an appeasement of his unhappiness, a dissipation of his permanent unrest. The bottle brought to his lips restores the beneficial maternal imagoes … [three dots in the original] thus he ‘feeds from the baby bottle.’ [in French “biberonne” with quotation marks].”

I looked up the meaning of imagoes. Here is the pertinent definition, “Psychology. An often idealized image of a person, usually a parent, formed in childhood and persisting unconsciously into adulthood.” According to Jean Pierre, Bix drinks because he is unhappy, he is in permanent unrest, and thus returns to the maternal arms –now with a bottle filled with gin rather than milk- for comfort. We are now moving from the realm of speculation into ridiculous rationalizations and psychological nonsense. Is it possible that Bix started drinking so early in his life (and there is evidence that he did), and he did so with such frequency and such excess that he became physically addicted to booze?

“Psychologically fragile, Bix had the need of being reassured, and he could provide the extent of his talent only in the bosom of an environment where he knew he was appreciated, in a protective cocoon.”

This pronouncement applies to the short engagement of Bix with the Goldkette band at the end of 1924. Again, Bix is depicted as a weak individual in need of support and this is presented as fact, not as the author’s speculation. There is another –and simpler- interpretation of the short tenure of Bix with Goldkette. Bix was a poor reader and there was little room in the Goldkette band for an individual who could not sight read. Thus, Goldkette terminated his contract with Bix. There is no need to invoke “psychological fragility” and “protective cocoons.” But the author does not leave room for dissent: he presents the image of Bix forcefully. Note the word “only” when he refers to the quality of the music he produced. I don’t agree that Bix could display all his talent “only” in a "protective cocoon." Bix was a musician’s musician, a consummated professional, a relentless perfectionist who gave the best he was capable of, regardless of circumstances.

The reason I dwell in such length on what Jean Pierre has written on the young Bix is that most of this appears in the first 46 pages of this 351-page book. Thus, Jean Pierre builds up –very early- the image of an individual with internal and external conflicts, mainly with his family, a frustrated, weak individual, with a strong need for maternal comfort. Perhaps that is an accurate picture of Bix, but I do not find in this book –or in the Bix literature- the evidence that leads to that speculation. On the contrary, from all I read, I see Bix as a man of few words, with a passion for his music, unencumbered by the needs of everyday life, friendly to his fellow musicians, with an unusual sense of humor, who enjoyed –and was good at- sports for the first twenty some years of his life. Towards the end of his life, when the ravages of excessive alcohol consumption had profoundly affected his physical and mental well-being, when his economic situation was dismal, he probably was unhappy, frustrated, even bitter. But is it a given that Bix’s addiction to alcohol is to be ascribed to his childhood experiences and alienation from his family?

Much has been made in the Bixology literature about the so-called strained relationships between Bix and his family. What is the origin of this? It comes from baseless speculation in Ralph Berton’s “Remembering Bix.” First, we have no reports of Bix having discussed his family with anyone. In fact, even Berton admits that Bix never told Berton anything about this aspect of Bix’s life. Moreover, we have Bix’s own words (letter of Bix to his father dated Nov 1, 1922 ), “It’s kind of hard to write a letter of this kind home because in our happy home I have nothing to write but stories of good times that I’ve had and those I’m going to have… of all the troubles I can imagine and that are bound to come in time the trouble I dread worse is the time come when mother and you & all of course must go and sometimes I feel I’d soon not live to see the time.” Do these words give the image of a son alienated from his parents from childhood? Wasn’t Bix’s family always helping Bix whenever he was in need? He went home when in need of recuperation and he was welcome with open arms. He borrowed money when he was broke. His mother understood Bix’s special playing (see the article in the Davenport newspaper about the Whiteman broadcasts and Bix’s mother) and listened to the Whiteman broadcasts. I see a supportive family when Bix was in need, I see a family with close ties. Of course, they were concerned by Bix’s inability to graduate from high school, of course they were worried about Bix’s excessive drinking. I imagine they were unhappy about Bix’s choice of a professional career as a dance band/jazz musician. But there is a huge difference between concern, and worry on the one hand and alienation and conflict on the other. Is Bix lying in 1922 - the ravages of alcohol had not yet destroyed him- when he writes of “our happy home’ and the “good times that I’ve had”?

The alleged homosexual encounter of Bix with Eugene Berton.

I have written at length about the errors, misrepresentations, and falsehoods in Ralph Berton’s “Remembering Bix.” Jean Pierre presents, briefly, an account of Ralph Berton’s report of a homosexual encounter between Bix and Gene Berton, Ralph’s older brother. The Jean Pierre does not explicitly tell the reader if this is just a report of Berton’s account or if this is to be viewed as fact. The implication is that Jean Pierre views it as a fact. In a long footnote, Jean Pierre first states that Berton’s recollection “was evidently not included in Evans last publication.” He then goes on to state, “two witnesses indicate that Berton confirmed at a later date the accuracy of his brother’s recollection.” This is worded in a clever manner. Jean Pierre does not say that the event was confirmed, only that the recollection was. There is nothing wrong with reporting Ralph Berton’s account. But if the author bothers to discuss in the extensive footnote confirmation of Gene Berton’s recollection, why didn’t he included in the footnote the considerable body of evidence that demonstrates that “Remembering Bix” is full of errors, misrepresentations and falsehoods? The reader who reads Berton’s book but does not have a detailed knowledge of Bix’s life will not be able to assess the accuracy of Berton’s account. It was incumbent upon Jean Pierre to at least provide a warning to the reader about the fact that Berton’s book is full of inaccuracies. If Jean Pierre took the space to include an excerpt form David Logue’s post in the forum, why didn’t he at least mention that the forum also includes a considerable number of postings demonstrating various serious inaccuracies in the book?

Most of my criticisms apply to early sections in the book. But statements about what Bix “thinks” or “does” appear, occasionally, late in the book. In p. 247, Jean Pierre writes, “Bix limited his conversation (with the reporter of the Davenport Democrat) to general considerations, and avoided –smiling- any personal or intimate question.” How does the author know that Bix-and not the reporter-is the one who circumscribed the interview to general questions? (I cannot suppress my annoyance at the reference to “smiling”, a total fabrication.) In p. 248, “this medical advice (from the Beiderbeckes’ family doctor, that Bix had to stop drinking) just added a definitive word on a reality that Bix’s parents could only approach with great repugnance: their 26-year old son was a drunk.” Why repugnance? How does Jean Pierre know what Bix’s parents felt? Could the parents have approached the doctor’s advice with sadness, unhappiness, compassion? We do not know. Why does Jean Pierre, when confronted with two alternate explanations, chooses the one that will put Bix in the worse light?

Jean Pierre deviates from what Evans and Evans tell us about Bix in late 1928-early 1929. There is no discussion –except for a remark in passing- of the alleged beating of Bix with his fellow musicians finding him in his hotel room when they returned to New York in February 1929. Evans and Evans tell us of two breakdowns in Cleveland, one in November 1928, another in January 1929. Sudhalter and Evans discuss only one breakdown in January 1929. Jean Pierre discusses only one breakdown in November 1928. Perhaps some explanation should have been given as to the reasons why Jean Pierre chose not to discuss the alleged beating and why he discussed only one breakdown in November 1929.

Chapters 8 and 9 are rather tedious. The reader is presented with a series of dates and descriptions of travels and of recordings. Maybe not much can be done: Bix in 1927 and 1928 did a lot of travelling and made a lot of recordings, but somehow, I believe (at least I hope so) that there must be a way to enliven the accounts.

As I said, errors are inevitable. Here are the only ones I picked up. Indiana University is referred throughout the book as University of Indiana. Chicago is not the capital of Illinois (p. 93). The “Bill” in the dedication by Bix of the sheet music of “In A Mist” is, according to Evans and to Deffaa, Bill Priestley, not Bill Challis. (p.184)

Conclusions.The harsh criticism presented above should not deter people from purchasing the book. My objections pertain to a few pages of the book. The remaining is very useful. Jean Pierre has managed to pack a lot of the available information about Bix within the covers of his book. He consulted a large number of books and articles, and took pains to check the accuracy of almost every fact associated with Bix. However, I wonder if in addition to emphasizing the daily activities of Bix, he could have included a couple of chapters, one on Bix as a man, the other on Bix's music. In a chapter on Bix as a man, Jean Pierre could have tried to provide an image of Bix's relationships with his fellow musicians and friends, for example. I grant that Jean Pierre provides quotes from people who knew Bix. But these are dispersed throughout. I wonder if a chapter where all this was put together with an attempt to delineate an image of Bix could have been a useful contribution. The same consideration applies to Bix's music. Jean Pierre provides commentaries about specific recordings, but a chapter devoted to an analysis of what made Bix's music so unique and so appealing could have been a valuable enterprise.

Last Thought. Finally, I must confess my extreme surprise and puzzlement at the last line in the book. At the end of the “Epilogue”, Jean Pierre writes “Davenport, le 10 mars 2003.” I can understand that Jean Pierre wishes to have that place and date in his book. But a place and date given at the end of a book or an epilogue are a specification of when and where the book, or at least that section of the book, was written. I am afraid that Jean Pierre was not in Davenport on March 10, 2003. Why end his book on a false note when he took extraordinary efforts to ascertain the accuracy of the information he provided? See note 1.

Note 1. In a personal message, Jean Pierre provided an explanation as to why he used the Davenport site and the March 10 date. It turns out that at the end of the book "L’écume des jours", the author, Boris Vian, writes,

Memphis, 8 mars 1946 –Davenport, 10 mars 1946.

This is explained in note 11 of p. 17 of Jean Pierre's book. [my translation].
Boris Vian and Bix Beiderbecke shared the same birthday; both were born on March 10, seventeen years apart (Bix in 1903, Boris in 1920.) The false dates at the end of "L’écume des jours" -Memphis, 8 mars 1946 –Davenport, 10 mars 1946- celebrate two high jazz sites.

Jean Pierre emulated what Boris Vian had done.

The book received the 2004 Academie du Jazz Award, the “Prix Charles Delaunay."

Addendum 2. 08/30/2005. The book has been translated. Here are the details.

Author: Lion, Jean Pierre.
Title: Bix : the definitive biography of a jazz legend : Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke (1903-1931) / Jean Pierre Lion ; translated from the French by Gabriella Page-Fort with the assistance of Michael B. Heckman and Norman Field.
Edition: English ed.
Description: xix, 348 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Published: New York : Continuum, 2005.
ISBN: 0826416993 (hardcover : alk. paper)
Notes: Translation of: Bix : Bix Beiderbecke, une biographie. Paris : Outre Mesure, 2004.

Includes bibliographical references (p. [300]-307), discography (p. [308]-339), and index.

Many of these books are out of print. There are five exceptions. 
Return to the top  Return to home page Return to Detailed Table of Contents


A Brief Biography  Articles in Magazines The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society
Bix's Musical Genius Video Tapes  Items of Special Interest
Biographies Audio Tapes Information of Related Interest
Chapters in Books Museums A Stamp for Bix in 2003
Scholarly Dissertations Miscellaneous Links to Related Sites
Obituaries Readers' Queries and Remarks Celebration of Bix's Musical Legacy

The Original 78's
Analysis of Some Recordings: Is It Bix or Not ?
Complete Compilations of Bix's Recordings
Tributes to Bix
Miscellaneous Recordings Related to Bix
In A Mist