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  • Jonathan Widran


Considered one of the most influential jazz soloists of the 1920s, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke only lived 28 years, but his legacy and influence on thousands of musicians endures and continues to inspire a full 100 years later. In 2003, veteran clarinetist and saxophonist Dan Levinson teamed with his friend, businessman and massive Bix enthusiast Doug LaPasta to create an ensemble to record a tribute album commemorating Bix’s 100th birthday.

More than a re-creation of the original recordings, LaPasta’s vision was to have new arrangements showcasing the individual talents of the participating artists. The only thing they kept sacred for full re-creation were Bix’s inimitable, game-changing solos, which were arranged in three part harmony for the shimmering cornets of Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart and Dan Barrett. The original Celebrating Bix! project, credited to The Bix Centennial All-Stars, was limited to a single CD, which left nearly a dozen recorded tracks in the vault.

Enter Scott Asen of Turtle Bay Records, who in considering projects for his new retro-jazz label, asked Levinson if he knew of any albums that were out of print but worthy of being reissued. Asen immediately agreed that Celebrating Bix! demanded a re-issue, complete with those “lost” tracks – resulting in the expanded, exquisitely packaged 20th Anniversary Edition of Celebrating Bix! There are myriad perfect “entry points” among the 22-tracks that will help listeners grasp the authentic magic of what Bix and his ensemble created in their time.

Those who choose selections from the “old” (2003) recording first will surely revel in the peppy, jumping swing of the opening cut “At The Jazz Band Ball,” which sets the high spirited mood and includes Mark Shane’s wild piano solo. Or they may take a cruise on the Hoagy Carmichael-composed “Riverboat Shuffle,” which backs Kellso’s lively lead melody with ample horns, clarinet and a New Orleans vibe. Like the blues? Try “Davenport Blues,” “The Jazz Me Blues” or “Blue River,” which critics in the 20s praised as a “flawed masterpiece.”

For musical adventurers who want to hear the “new” cuts, a solid place to begin the journey is the highly danceable “Trumbology,” which features occasional bars of staccato horn textures. Next up, try taking the chipper “China Boy” all the way to a booming party “Borneo” to dine on some crafty and fun “Clarinet Marmalade” before heading back “Deep Down South,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” The way the titles are arranged seems tailor made for such a travel narrative, and we can thank Levinson and Asen for making it possible.

This is one project you’ll want on CD or LP so you can enjoy the beautiful insert with several impactful essays illuminating the history of both eras of this amazing project.


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