R. Evans: An Appreciation.
Spiegle Willcox: An Appreciation.
Photographs of Whiteman Collegians
***In Memory of Philip R. Evans***
Condolences can be sent to Linda Evans at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 10507, Bakersfield, CA 93389-0507
Albert Haim, July 24, 1999
Note: On July 28, 1999, the New Wolverine Orchestra dedicated the stage show "The Story of Bix" to the memory of Phil Evans.
Chris Beiderbecke, Bix's grand
nephew, writes on July 26, 1999:
I am extremely grateful for Phil Evans. I first became aware of him many
years ago when he published the first of his biographies of my great-uncle
Bix. I heard stories of his meticulous research, and the huge volume of
research materials he had amassed. I was told that he'd had to actually build
an addition to house it all.
Over the years, there have been many projects revolving around Bix
that have come and gone. There were the movies, the books, and many other
merchandising and marketing efforts. They ranged from the sublime to the
ridiculous, skewing towards the ridiculous. And accuracy was always at the
very bottom of the priority lists of most of these efforts. No one that I've
been aware of has approached the subject and person of Bix Beiderbecke with more dedication to doing the painstaking, long, frustrating, and very
difficult, hard work that getting it right requires than Phil, and getting it
right was Phil's passion.
Phil's approach was impeccable. He researched and wrote as a scholar
would. Dedicated to finding verifiable facts, disregarding things that might
have made good copy, or that had been told and retold so often that they had
become regarded as facts, reporting the truth only after exhaustive research.
I'm grateful to Phil for spending so many years in this often unsung and
unrewarded effort. His latest effort will stand for all time as the
definitive volume on Bix, and should serve to strike down many of the
fallacies that have sprung up over the years around Bix's life.
The beauty in what Phil has done is that through seemingly dry research
and doing away with embellishments and personal opinion, and refusing to bow to the urge to over dramatize an already dramatic life, he actually revealed Bix the young man and shooting star in a more personal way than any before him had done in any medium. And all without the use of "dramatic license."
If not for Phil and his wife Linda, I would have spent my life just
wishing that someone would do what he has done, and feeling bad knowing that I certainly would not have the patience and perseverance that he had for the task, and lamenting that no one had searched out, sorted through, verified, and laid down the facts of my great-uncle's life in a definitive way. We all
would have had to rely on other works and various short biographical sketches that repeated falsehoods and the author's bias.
Bix deserved Phil. Phil did well by Bix, and I'm sure that like myself
and countless others, Bix is grateful for Phil Evans.
Marian McPartland, jazz pianist,
Port Washington, NY, writes on August 1, 1999:
I never had the pleasure of meeting Phil Evans, but we had many conversations about Bix and my husband, Jimmy McPartland, who replaced Bix in the Wolverines. Phil was a very charming and interesting man to talk to, and I read and enjoyed several of his books, namely, "Bix: Man and Legend" (in collaboration with Richard Sudhalter), "Tram, The Frank Trumbauer Story" [in collaboration with Larry Kiner, ed.], and "Bix: The Leon Bix Beiderbeke Story" [in collaboration with Linda Evans, ed.]. I found these books to be tremendously interesting and informative. Phil Evans was undoubtedly a great jazz scholar, and he will be sorely missed.
Frank Manera, Bixophile, Providence,
RI, writes on August 3, 1999:
As a noted scholar of Bix Beiderbecke and researcher/author of other great
American jazz giants, Phil Evans had outstanding merit for the detail
and meticulousness of research in his extraordinary contributions.
Upon visiting with Phil at his home in Bakersfield, California this past
May, I've had the privilege to read an innumerable amount of letters Phil had
amassed since the mid-1950's. Some of these letters were from Louis
Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Paul Mertz, Roy Bargy and C.B. Beiderbecke. Phil personally knew and was friends with many of the musicians Bix knew and worked with, namely, Red Nichols, Jack Teagarden, Bill Rank, Roy Bargy, Paul Mertz, and Hoagy Carmichael. Phil made contact with a lot of these guys through his friend, the late bass-saxist Joe Rushton. One contact led to another. Phil was indeed close to these guys who loved him like a son. They were all extremely generous and helpful to him as he would ask them questions for information in his research on Bix.
As the years passed on and these guys left us one by one, Phil took their passing as if he had lost a family member. Phil had told me so many interesting stories about these musicians during my visit with him and through many letters and phone conversations. Phil loved to talk of these guys and how helpful they were to him.He would always express his deepest gratitude for their kindness shown to him in his quest for information about Bix.
Phil (like Bix) was an avid sports fan. He would love to watch the ball games on television.
Always a caring and concerned man, Phil saved a Parochial school in
Bakersfield, California from being closed down by leading a project through
the efforts of volunteers in this mission, while at the time working in a
full time capacity for the U.S.Government.
I recall when we first met in Davenport, Iowa in 1998 how patient he was in answering all my questions about Bix. We talked for many hours. That is how our friendship began. Phil had spent his life in total dedication of Bix and would continue to search for any new information he could find. He was willing to share his information with those who were interested in Bix.
On the morning of July 24th, 1999, I received the saddest of news from Phil's wife Linda. She informed me that on the night before, at 10:00 PM Phil had a massive heart attack.We lost him. My mail of that sad day included a letter from Phil which he sent off to me a few days earlier.
Phil deserves a special place in history for his outstanding contributions. I
feel proud and honored to have known him. I'll always cherish with the
fondest of memories the warm friendship I have shared with such a wonderful person as Phil Evans.
Scott Black, jazz cornetist,
CT, writes on August 5, 1999:
Back in the late 70's, while talking to Vince Giordano about Bix, he said,
"Do you know Phil Evans?" I said no, just from the book. So he gave me Phil's phone number and said to give him a call, that he is a swell guy, and loves to talk to people who are sincere about Bix. That first phone call became the start of a 20+ year friendship that lasted to the end. I still can't believe
he is gone, that I can't pick up the phone, and spend two hours with the most
sincere and honest researcher of jazz, and of Bix.
Phil sought one thing, the TRUTH about Bix. The Beiderbecke horn, and his concept of music, is something that affects people in strange ways. It was a different direction and style of music he created that caused such a musical
wake, that many people spent the rest of their lives trying to figure it out.
When Bix died, he took it with him. For years fans and would be writers
pestered his friends and family to the point that they clammed up. That's
where the writers with the fantasy stories came about, dumping more mud on
the truth about Bix.
Phil was able to win the friendship and trust of the musicians and family
of Bix, because they realized that his love for Bix was honest, and that he
wasn't trying for the Book Of The Month Club. He told me that at the first
Whiteman reunion party that he was invited to, the boys were a bit wary about him, here he was with a 50lb tape recorder, feeling quite uneasy. He said Roy Bargy came up to him and said, "What did Bix drink?" Phil said, "Gin." Roy said, "Great, what do you want to know? How can I help you?" The ice was broken, and from then on, the Whiteman boys were happy to help Phil with whatever information he needed. They gave him pictures, diaries, letters, clippings, interviews so the legacy of Bix, good or bad, would be judged by the truth.
For a while in the early 80's I taped our phone calls, with his permission
of course, because he would tell me so many things, and answer so many
questions, with so many details about Bix, it was almost impossible to digest
it all. These tapes and the 150+ letters from him over the years would make a
great book in itself. I, along with many others, tried to get him to write a
book about trying to write a book about Bix. The trouble he had is well
known, and no need to go into it here, except to say that it is part of what
caused his death.
He was a very generous man who was too happy to share his knowledge with people who loved Bix. Many did him wrong. He didn't want to do the last book on Bix, it took years to persuade him to get the story down once and for all. Thank God he did. It's a tribute to Bix, and to Phil, and to all of those
jazz greats to have their words, as they said them, in the context that they
were said. The story about Bix is done. The lies have been swept away,
leaving a clear look at a young man who changed the way many people thought about music. A story that, if made into a real movie, using the FACTS, could be a masterpiece.
Phil would call on his friends from time to time for some help to track
something for him. These quests were some of the best times I've ever had in a library. His excitement over finding something new was very contagious, and we all loved to help out if we could. Being a musician on the road, I would head for the libraries and look up dates for him, reviews, etc. It was like putting together a big puzzle while going on a treasure hunt. I can't tell
you how much I will miss that, it made the road a whole lot easier to take.
Enough can't be said for Linda, she was his rock. She looked out for Phil
like a pit bull, and helped to keep the vultures from taking advantage of his
sweet nature. He would always praise her, telling me, "I don't know what I
would do without her." She was his eyes and ears when he was sick, and
kept his flame burning. His friends, and there are many of us, are there to
help her keep Phil's memory and his work alive. If she's the pit bull, we are the puppies.
Take care my friend, say hi to Bix for us.
Vince Giordano, jazz musician,
archivist, collector writes on August 6, 1999:
Thanks for writing the nice piece on Phil Evans. A real nice man who did a superhuman job getting all those facts and books out there for us to enjoy.
May he rest in peace.
Don Ingle, jazz musician (Sons
of Bix Jazzband) writes on December 27, 1999:
I was among the forunate people to have had a father, Red Ingle, who not
only knew Bix but worked with him in various Goldkette units in Detroit,
including the Victor Band.
Growing up among musicians, and hearing the legends of Bix from others
made me more than aware of him, but it took my dad's playing of a recording by Bix, "Clementine", to electrify me. Having been playing clarinet for a few years (dad being a reed man), that exposure to the sound of his horn made me throw the clarinet idea aside and acquire a cornet, with which I was able to make my lving for many years after.
The point of this is that, in the course of this personal journey, I met
Phil Evans. He had already contacted my dad for information on Bix
from his time, and when I met Phil, he was even more a source of
information for me to glean in our few short meetings. It was later, when he was doing his first book on Bix that I was able to repay his kindness
by supplying several photos for his book, the shot of Bix and dad and one
of Bixian cornetist Este n Spurrier.
Needless to say, the news of Phil's death hit this family hard. He was
already in poor health but a good heart just couldn't keep the beat,
and we lost a great friend.
I was grateful to Scott Black and Linda for their passing on the news,
and I join the many friends of Phil in mourning his passing. But what a
wonderful legacy he has left us in his work.
It has been said that man gains immortality only through the memories of
others. That being true, it means that Phil has joined the immortals
that he wrote so faithfully about.
Obituary in One of Bakersfield Newspapers. Click here
Spiegle Willcox passed away on Thursday,
August 26, 1999, at his home in Cincinnatus, New York. He was buried at
Cortland Rural Cemetery on Saturday, August 28, 1999. Spiegle was the last
surviving member of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.
Newell ("Spiegle") Willcox was born on May 2, 1903, in Sherburne, New York. Spiegle began to play professionally in the Syracuse area just after World War I. In 1922 he was in Ithaca with "The Big Four" (really a group of eight) when Paul Whiteman discovered the band and renamed it "The Collegians". Spiegle's first recording was "That Red-Head Gal" (New York, March 23, 1923, Vic 19049). Spiegle stayed with the Whiteman organization until early 1925. He then returned to Cortland and joined his coal family's firm for a short period.
During the summer of 1925, Spiegle was playing in a dance hall in Auburn's Owasco Lake. Fred "Fuzzy" Farrar, a trumpet player for the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, was vacationing in the area and told Spiegle that Tommy Dorsey was quitting the Goldkette band and a replacement was needed. Spiegle joined the Jean Goldkette Victor Recording Orchestra in October 1925. In May 1926, Bix and Frank Trumbauer joined the Goldkette band. When Goldkette's Victor Recording band was dismantled in 1927, Spiegle returned to the coal family business for several decades.
In the 1970's, Joe Venuti asked Spiegle to go to Europe with him to play at several venues. Thus, when he was in his seventies, at a time when most people retire to live a quiet life, Spiegle started his phenomenal second career as a professional musician. Spiegle played with jazz bands at festivals, recorded CD's (his first recording was an acoustic 78!), started singing, told stories, cracked jokes. Hemade yearly appearances at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival. His last appearance in Davenport was just a few weeks ago.After playing a number at Bix's graveside, Spiegle turned toward Bix's grave stone and asked "How am I doing, Bix?" For years, Spiegle participated in several jazz festivals in Europe, where he was idolized. Just a little over a month ago, on June 30, 1999, Spiegle was a special guest with Lino Patruno & the "Red Pellini Gang" in a "Tribute to Bix Beiderbecke" at the Ascona Jazz Festival.
Spiegle was not only a great trombone player, but also a gentleman and a classy individual. One example will suffice. At the last Bix Festival, Rickey Bauchelle, the daughter of Doc Ryker, was introduced to Spiegle. At the concert on Saturday morning at Bix graveside, Spiegle, in turn, introduced Rickey to the audience and, especially for her, reminisced about the Goldkette days with Ryker, Bix, and Tram. Clearly, Spiegle was a thoughtful and considerate man. He will be sorely missed.
Spiegle Willcox and Hans Eekhoff have written a fascinating and informative article entitled "Goldkette and All That Jazz" in the September 1994 issue of Storyville.
Hans Eekhoff (musician from the Netherlands and serious
Bixophile) wrote on August 28, 1999. Spiegle will be immensely missed,
but what a rich life! He was at my house only last month and we played
78's the whole afternoon. A week later, he played with my band in Germany
and I tell you he was truly great! Not just great for a 96-year old guy
but simply great. Period.
Today he'll be buried, and in my thoughts I'll be there to say goodbye. It
was a privilege to have known this great, gentle man.
Addendum January 24, 2000. Here is a picture of Spiegle, taken at my home on July 10th 1999 during an afternoon of record playing. He's holding Victor 20471 "Hoosier Sweetheart" which he considered to be his best Goldkette recording. Two weeks later he played with my band at the Rheingauer Jazz Festival in Germany and he felt fit and played great.
On July 18th Spiegle, Cynthia, the guys in my band and a few more German
friends had a wonderful summer evening dinner on a terrace overlooking the
Rhein which I will never forget. It was the last time I saw him but the memory of it all, having known him for 23 years (literally half my life), more than compensates for my sadness over his loss. Spiegle was one of the finest gentlemen to walk this earth and I sincerely loved him. I thought you might like to share these inner thoughts.
Alann Krivor (grandnephew of Jean Goldkette) wrote
on August 28, 1999. We'll all miss his music, humor, andbright
intelligence. Spiegle definitely gave all of us something to live
for. I feel very complete that I got to share several moments of his long
life. Here's to Spiegle..........Hip, hip, HURRAH!!!
Trevor Rippingale (jazz musician of The New Wolverine
Orchestra and Bixophile par excellence) wrote on August 30, 1999.
What a very gracious pair Spiegle and his devoted
daughter, Cynthia. Both are role-models for us all as we
grow older. And what wonderful retention of personal and musical skills
so late in life! trombonist, raconteur, comedian,
compere, vocalist and great human being. It was a joy to be with them both
at all times. I first met them both and played with Spiegle in 1994 at
"Oestrich-Winkel"a little wine town in Germany, then subsequently at the
Bix Festival, Davenport, in 1996 and 1998. Right from the first contact,
he greeted us with bear hugs and they both made us feel like close personal
friends or even relatives, for which we'll be forever grateful. On that
first night we met in Germany he said: "I was told you boys play Bix, and
we just had to come and hear you". He and Cynthia immediately joined our
band party, stayed with us all through the night and he sat in for a set
with us, tromboning and singing: wonderful ! It was our first direct contact
with Spiegle and through him, with Bix. We'll treasure the audio and video
tapes we have of him playing with us, as I'm sure all the other bands he
graced and encouraged, will also do.
I've learnt many things from Spiegle: not only graciousness in ageing and living for music, but also musical professionalism, and particularly stage craft and presentation skills : and to retain them all at such a high level of
competence at such an age, is almost unbelievable.
I remember asking Spiegle what he thought of Bix, and he said: "Trevor, Bix should have done what I did." (What's that, Spiegle?) "After each gig he should have packed his horn in his case and gone right on home!"
Frank Manera (Bixophile from Rhode Island) wrote on August 31, 1999. It was a thrill meeting Spiegle on every occasion and listening to him play his trombone. He had such exuberance! He spread so much cheer! The guy actually knew Bix. He'll be deeply missed by all Bixophiles and jazz fans alike. Spiegle has now beenreunited with the entire Goldkette Band.
Lino Patruno (jazz musician and Bixophile extraordinaire)
wrote from Italy (received August 31, 1999).
now You will ride forever in the skies of legend, together with Bix, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and all the boys from the Goldkette Band.
We will remember You everytime we play or listen to "My Pretty Girl", "Idolizing", I'm Looking Over...".
You have been one of the most beautiful and joyous realities of this less than happy end to the century.
We will miss You very much!
Karl Heinz Ern
Red Pellini Gang
and all the Italian jazz musicians that knew and played with You.
Roma, August 30,1999
John C. Bayer (trombone player and music teacher) wrote on September 10, 1999. About 1974, during my college years, a couple of trombonist friends and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet, visit, and play our horns for Spiegle and his late wife Helen in their Cincinnatus home. The Willcox's were so warm and friendly. I remember Spiegle listened to us appreciatively which he followed by words of encouragement. At the time I had little interest in jazz music and I did not fully appreciate those moments we had with you, Spiegle. Now, as I'm much older and play mostly jazz, I thank you for those words of encouragement when I was a kid. I do keep on playing and when I get discouraged, I listen to YOUR music which will cheer up anyone. I am so thankful for those recordings!! jazz certainly did "keep you young."
Michael May (middle school band director)) wrote on
September 13, 1999.
In March of '96, I wrote Spiegle to tell him that the Collegians' recording of
"That Red Head Gal" was to be played at my wedding reception (my beloved Mindy is a beautiful redhead!) He wrote back, with information about his own wedding, and he answered some questions about trombones I had asked, too. He also thought it neat that someone was still listening to the Collegians! Spiegle concluded the letter by inviting me to visit him.
I visited Spiegle and Cynthia the following summer, and I really enjoyed my time with them. We played trombone duets, and I asked him about his career. Spiegle help to solve two mysteries for me. One involved the picture of the Goldkette band, in which all of the band members are sitting on top of the bus, and bassist Steve Brown is holding a gun! Spiegle laughed when I asked him about this, and told me that earlier that day, both he and Brown went to a novelty shop and bought the "guns," which were cigarette lighters.
Another mystery involved record speeds. Spiegle asked me if I knew any of his soloes. I began to play his solo on "Hoosier Sweetheart." When I finished, he told me it was good, but it was wrong. Apparently, I had played it one half step too high! The first three notes of his solo are D, D, and A: to "get" these three notes on the original Victor record, it must be played at 77 rpm.
I enjoyed my subsequent phone conversations with Spiegle, and will miss talking with and spending time with him.
Photographs of Paul Whiteman Collegians
Photo 1. Bob Causer, drummer for the band.
Photo 2.The band sittting and holding instruments. From left, seated: Roy Johnston; Charlie Dean; Bob Causer; Stub Washburn; Freddie Ballinger. From left, standing: Spiegle Willcox; Jimmy Lynch; Red Ewald.
Photo 3. The band sitting without instruments. From left, seated: Stub Washburn, alto sax; Bob Causer, drums; Jimmy Lynch, piano. From left, standing: Charlie Dean, banjo; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Red Ewald, violin; Roy Johnston, trumpet; Freddie Ballinger, piano, sax and trombone.
Photo 4. The band standing. From left: Bob Causer; Red Ewald; Roy Johnston; Spiegle Willcox;
Freddie Ballinger; Stub Washburn; Charlie Dean; Jimmy Lynch.
I thank Enrico Borsetti for kindly sending me all the above images.
##Sad News About John Steiner##
April 7, 2003 11:13 PM Quad City Newspaper April 8 Dispatch and Rock Island Argus
Beiderbecke bandmate and friend Swanson leaves behind multi-talented
By Sean Leary, Entertainment editor
The last living area jazz man to have played with legendary cornetist
Bix Beiderbecke has been reunited with
his former bandmates.
Les Swanson, 97, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia at Rosewood Care Center, Moline.
Mr. Swanson, a resident of Westwood Terrace, Moline, was a close friend
of Mr. Beiderbecke's and spent
considerable time with him in the mid-late 1920s before Bix's death in 1931.
He played in the Trave O'Hearn and Jimmie Hicks groups during the Bix
era of the '20s and stayed musically
active through the '90s, performing with Louie Bellson at the former Louie Bellson Jazz Festival, now the
Quad-Cities Jazz Festival. He, Leo Bahr and Cy Churchill were honored at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz
Festival in 1995 as the then-final three men to have played with Mr. Beiderbecke.
At Bix's 100th birthday bash March 10 at the Blackhawk Hotel, Mr. Swanson
played piano and spoke of his
memorable association with the jazz legend.
``This is like having a page of your favorite book torn out that you
can't replace,'' said Rich Johnson, Bix
Beiderbecke Memorial Society board member. ``He played with Bix whenever (Bix) came home. He hung out
with him. He was a close friend of Bix's. We used to be able to go to him and ask him questions about that
time, and about the '20s jazz scene here in the area. The guy was unbelievable -- he had a great memory and
was so sharp.
``It's an important missing link that's gone now. He was probably the
last one who knew Bix really well and
hung out with him before he was famous.
``He was such an uplifting person -- very, very talented, and he had
a great love of the piano. Even up to the
day he died, they had a keyboard in his room, and he was playing.''
``He was full of surprises. He had so many different interests,'' said
Vicki Wassenhove, Mr. Swanson's
daughter. ``I think a lot of the emphasis has been on his association with Bix ... but there was a lot more to
my dad than that. He was a very talented man.''
Aside from his life in music, Mr. Swanson was a photographer, journalist,
golfer and author, writing eight
books about various subjects of Americana, Ms. Wassenhove said.
A visitation for Mr. Swanson will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday
at Trimble Funeral Home, Moline.
The funeral will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at Trimble. A 15-minute musical performance featuring various
Quad-Cities musicians, including Mr. Johnson and Manny Lopez, will be presented prior to the funeral.
Last Updated: 11:24 pm, Sunday, April 6th, 2003 from http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?story_id=1010498&t=Local+News&c=2,1010498
Q-C’s last living musical link to Bix dies
By Linda Cook
Somewhere, a piano mingles with a cornet in a heavenly concert that’s bringing the angels and the
saints marching in.
Les Swanson, 97, the last living Quad-City musician to
play with legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, died
from pneumonia Sunday at Rosewood Care Center of
“I will remember him as a fine musician who
remembered Bix as no other living person did,” said
Quad-City Times columnist Bill Wundram, who late
Sunday mourned the passing of his friend. Wundram will
be among the pallbearers at funeral services that
tentatively have been set for Thursday.
Swanson performed for fun Saturday, according to his
friend Jim Arpy, a longtime Quad-City journalist and the
editor of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society’s “Bix
“Les had just played the piano the day before he died,”
Arpy said. “Apparently, there was no piano available at
Rosewood, so his daughter, Vicki Wassenhove, went
out and bought him a keyboard. He just got it Saturday,
and he was playing several songs on it. He said that
playing seemed to make him feel better, but as he
played he got more and more tired.”
Arpy knew Swanson through his long association with
the memorial society. “I knew him for more than 30
years,” he said. “He had even played piano at my house
for KIIN.” The television station had asked that
musician Rich Johnson and Arpy get together with
Swanson to discuss Bix for a segment filmed at Arpy’s
home. Swanson was scheduled to play the piano.
“He requested that I have the piano tuned the day
before,” Arpy remembered. “On the very day (of the
shoot) he called and said, ‘You have to tune the piano
again.’ He was that particular.”
He remembers Swanson as “just a wonderful person, a real raconteur. He had all kinds of stories
about Bix, and he knew Ronald Reagan, too; he’d talk about him broadcasting from the
Blackhawk Hotel. We learned more about Bix from him than any other source. I don’t think
there’s anyone who has written a book (involving Bix) who hasn’t talked to Les.” In fact,
Swanson recently had been interviewed by writer Jean-Pierre Lion, who is writing a book about
Bix in French.
Longtime musician Rich Johnson, the music director of the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz
Festival, met Swanson through music circles. “I think I met him through playing music before I
associated him with the Bix,” Johnson said.
“I knew him very well, especially the last few years. A lot of times I’d go up to where he lived
and talk to him,” Johnson said.
“He had a fantastic memory. What he gave us was a lot of missing parts of Bix’s early life that he
was fortunate to experience with Bix. He hung out with him; they went to movies together …
when he worked for the paper, he took him to the boxing matches out at Wharton Field House.
And he spent time at Bix’s house.”
Johnson regrets that certain chords that Bix taught Swanson died with him; they never were taped.
‘We’ll certainly miss him,” he said. “We always knew there was a guy we could go to if we had a
question about Bix.
Just recently, Swanson’s daughter told Johnson that her father considered him to be his best
friend. “That was really an honor,” Johnson said.
Swanson, despite his illness that kept him connected to an oxygen tank and in a wheelchair, still
performed “Tenderly” and “I Wish You Love” March 10 in the Blackhawk Hotel to celebrate the
100th anniversary of Bix’s birth.
In Bix’s era, Swanson played in the Trave O’Hearn and Jimmie llicks groups. He spent
considerable time with Bix, a friend, while he vacationed from the Paul Whiteman band one winter
shortly before Bix’s death in 1931.
Swanson, a former assistant editor at what then was the Daily Times in Davenport, became the
last Quad-City musician to play with Bix when, in 1999, clarinet and saxophone player Leo Bahr
died at the age of 91.
Swanson also was a photographer and author. He wrote the book “Covered Bridges in Illinois,
Iowa and Wisconsin,”' which gives travelers tips for enjoying the scenery of covered bridges with
the background of fall foliage. He also had written a book about the calliope.
Swanson’s career in music dates back more than seven decades and includes rubbing elbows
with other such musical noteworthies as Duke Ellington and Pee Wee Hunt.
He was a wedding photographer and played the calliope on riverboats. An avid golfer, Swanson
played golf until about a year ago.
The city desk can be contacted at (563) 383-2245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1905 - 2003
Leslie C. Swanson, 97, Moline, died Sunday, April 6,
2003, at Rosewood Care Center, Moline, following a
Services will be 10 a.m. Thursday, April 10, 2003, at
Trimble Funeral Home, Moline. Entombment will be in
the mausoleum at Moline Memorial Park.
Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.
Memorials may be made to the Bix Beiderbecke
Memorial Society Youth Education Endowment or a
charity of your choice.
Leslie C. Swanson was born Aug. 21, 1905, to Victor A. Swanson and
Agnes (Wyman) Swanson.
He was a friend of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, and last of the "Final
Five" local musicians who played with Bix. Less than a month ago, Mr.
Swanson had performed at the 100th Birthday Celebration for Bix at the
Blackhawk Hotel. He also was the last known surviving musician who
played with both Bix and Louie Bellson, another Quad-City jazz great.
With his four-way career of music, newspapering, photography, and
writing, Mr. Swanson led a vivid and complex life throughout his 97
Mr. Swanson’s career in the music business continued for about 70
years, with his first job as organist for silent movies at the Strand
Theater in East Moline, while still in high school. He also appeared on
riverboats, playing piano, calliope, or both, on 10 different steamers,
covering the entire length of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
He met several prestigious figures while playing at the Blackhawk Hotel
in the 1930s with the Trave O’Hearns orchestra. Mr. Swanson’s
accounts of his associations with the famous cornetist have been
included in several of the biographies written about Bix. Another was a
young radio announcer by the name of Ronald Reagan, just out of
college, who was serving as announcer for O’Hearn’s band at a radio
remote program direct from the hotel ballroom.
Mr. Swanson kept in touch with Reagan for years and had several
letters in Reagan’s handwriting. They met again in 1992, when they got
together again at Reagan’s homecoming in his Tampico, Ill., birthplace.
In business, Mr. Swanson spent a number of years as a member of the
editorial department of the former Daily Times. He later owned and
operated a commercial photography studio in Rock Island, specializing in
wedding candids and children’s portraits.
Some of his photographs of babies attracted national attention,
appearing in two press syndications and papers across the entire
Retiring from the photo studio in 1965, Mr. Swanson turned his
attention to writing books about Americana topics, such as covered
bridges, old mills, old canals, steam calliopes and country schools. He
penned eight books and hundreds of magazine articles during his lifetime
on widely diverse topics. He contributed stories and photos to the
Sunday sections of the Des Moines Register, the Travel section of the
Chicago Tribune and the Quad-City Times and countless other
Written while in his 80s, "Riverboat Gambling" was Swanson’s most
recent book. This book coincided with the introduction of gambling
boats in the Quad-Cities. Because of the book, he was featured on
national television (ABC network, "Good Morning America") and also
played the calliope during the 1991 inaugural voyage of the Diamond
Lady gambling boat in Bettendorf.
Among his hobbies were TV sports, reading several newspapers daily
and golf, which he continued to play at Credit Island Golf Course in his
97th year. With his sharp memory of details and history of the
Quad-City area, he was regarded as a prominent local historian in
He was a 50-year gold card member of the American Federation of
Musicians. Other memberships included First Lutheran Church, Moline,
honorary membership in the historic Clover Chapel near Woodhull, Ill., a
charter member of the Catfish Jazz Society and former memberships in
the National Society for Preservation of Covered Bridges, National Old
Mill Society, and the American Canal Society.
Swanson was instrumental in the formation of the Winterset (Iowa)
Covered Bridge Festival. He took part in the annual event until he
retired from it in 1983 and donated his extensive displays to the
He is listed in Who’s Who in the Midwest and Who’s Who in
Entertainment. He was one of the last few survivors of the 1923
graduating class of Moline High School and the 1928 graduates of
He married Gladys Huddleston on Aug. 10, 1940, in Davenport.
On Oct. 7, 1972, he married Mildred Hyler in Bellevue, Iowa. They
shared many enjoyable trips on the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen
riverboats before she preceded him in death in 1988.
Surviving are two daughters and their spouses, Vicki and Lee
Wassenhove, Milan, and Wendy and Charles Jeffries, Hemet, Calif.; a
sister, Marian Blondell; and a nephew, Walter Blondell and wife, Pat,
A younger brother, Robert
Published in the Quad-City Times on 4/8/2003.
Last Updated: 11:14 pm, Tuesday, April 8th, 2003
Legend of Les: How did he crowd it all in?
By Bill Wundram
No one was ready to step forward and put Les Swanson out to pasture, even at the mere age of
97. He kept on as if he expected to live forever and seemed delighted to outlive most of his
That includes 93-year-old Artie Shaw. He and Shaw were the two lone survivors of musicians
who had played with Bix Beiderbecke. Shaw, at 93, was noted — beyond “Frenesi” and “Begin
the Beguine” — for his six wives, including Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.
So much has been written and said about
Les, Q-C legend, and there is lots more
to be said. Some to be shared at his
funeral at 10 a.m. Thursday, Trimble’s in
Moline, with a jazz concert 15 minutes
before the services. The Rev. Henry
Muller, who played volleyball with Les up
until a few years ago, will come to town
from Sioux City to officiate.
Les was at the keyboard in the nursing
home only a day or so before his death. It
was outfitted with earphones, so he could
play it as loudly as he wanted. That was,
he said, “So I won’t bother the old folks
here.” Duke Ellington, with whom he had
shared the keys long years ago, would
have had a laugh out of that.
Yesterday, I visited by phone with Louie Bellson, our native Moline son who is the greatest
drummer of all time. “He was a role model for all of us. As a teen, I played with him in the Jimmy
Chase band at the Central bowling alley in downtown Rock Island. I had the great pleasure, too,
of playing with him just a few years ago, and he was still a fine musician ... an inspiration for kids
of all ages, that music keeps you young” said Bellson, from San Jose, Calif.
Les, like most serious musicians, began young. When he was 5 years old, his mom numbered the
keys on the piano so he could plink out “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” He liked to say that
was his premiere song, leading to a motley career with big dance bands in ballrooms and jazzy
bands on excursion boats where he pulled double duty on the calliope.
“A calliope was not an easy instrument to play,” he once said. “There was an 80-pound pressure
on the keys and you had to fight the thing.”
Says Jim Arpy, longtime newspaperman and friend: “It’s difficult to say what Les hadn’t done in
his long life.” Typewriter keys were as familiar as piano keys. He wrote books and pieces for
national magazines, his specialty being grisly tales like “Murder Farm” and “The Headless Hunter”
while working at this sheet as a reporter and an enterprising photographer. His most noted photo
was of a baby (his daughter, Vicki) who drank from her baby bottle while holding it with her feet.
Look magazine used it; so did Ripley’s “Believe it or Not,” and the Chicago Trib sent a
photographer to Moline to photograph the “foot-bottle-baby” for a two-page spread in its
Sunday magazine section.
Still, it was always music that was close to his heart. He was a walking-talking scenario of the jazz
age, playing in hot spots around the Midwest.
“Every Saturday night, for six years, I played in a night club in the Blackhawk Hotel. That was
prohibition and everybody brought in a half-pint of alky to spike Kingsbury beer.”
What always amazed me about Les was his total recall. He could recite details of the year (1914)
when he saw Buffalo Bill ride a white horse and watched Annie Oakley shoot clay pigeons — one
after another — at a Moline showgrounds. “In 1918, I went to Chicago with my dad to see Babe
Ruth go hitless against the White Sox.”
He kept contact with Ronald Reagan, a hark back to the days when Reagan was announcer for
jazz bands in Davenport. Nine years ago they met in Tampico, Ill., Reagan’s birthplace.
He said at the time: “What a life it has been in the decades since we first met. You wonder how
we ever crowded it all in.”
Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or email@example.com.
IQ WHAT WE FOUND OUT THIS WEEK
With a week to live, musician had to play
Ross Werland. Compiled by Devin Rose
April 27, 2003
A week before Quad Cities jazz legend Les Swanson died earlier this
month at age 97, he
found himself cut off from the one steady voice he'd had since playing for silent movies and
on riverboats early in the last century.
He was stuck in a nursing home where the piano sat tantalizingly out
of reach in a
community room. The room schedule was too busy with bingo and such to permit Swanson
even a few notes, plus his caretakers didn't want him overdoing it.
Vicki Wassenhove of Milan, Ill., knew her father better than that. He
needed a piano; it was
his breath. He'd contracted pneumonia in February and been in the hospital for a few days,
then in and out and back into a nursing home--not easy to take for a guy who'd been
taking care of himself in his own apartment in Moline.
But what bothered him more was not being able to play, she said. This
man had jammed
with a hall of fame's worth of jazz greats in his life, including tragic genius Bix Beiderbecke,
and his century-old fingers needed to work.
Wassenhove told him, "`I'm going out and I'm getting you a piano.' Two
hours later I was
back and I had one, a keyboard. It was the first time I'd seen him smile in a week or more.
He liked the way he could make it sound like a calliope, like he played on the steamboats."
He played it up until the day before he died, but when he couldn't play,
she put the
earphones on his head and turned on the keyboard's playback function. Even then, she could
see his toes tapping.
Because music never dies.
Through His Music, Bix Is Alive
Brief 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