Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke

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Jazz performers Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong

Jazz performers Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong were both significant figures in the 1920s. The former was raised in a shantytown as a poor African American child. Bix, on the other hand, was white and was raised in a comfortable and privileged environment. Armstrong overcame all difficulties and had a lengthy, exciting career during which he made innumerable contributions to jazz music that are still unmatched today. Bix had a successful career, but his alcoholism caused it to stop prematurely, leaving him penniless and alone.The two players possessed musical genius evident in their passion and religious devotion to jazz, and they continually appreciated each other's work. Beiderbecke is best known for his lyrical cornet solos while Armstrong used a trumpet cornet and his voice to share his compositions. However, Bix continued playing piano throughout his life as it was the first instrument he learned.

The Musical Styles and Philosophies of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke

Louis Armstrong is celebrated as a master jazz trumpeter. He was a bandleader and used a cornet, trumpet and his voice to share his musical talent with the world. He focused mainly on changing the attention towards jazz from collective improvisation to solos, and this was his primary musical style. He defined the jazz music and influenced various musicians on his daring, unique vocals and trumpet style. Additionally, he had a charismatic stage presence that impressed both his fellow jazz musicians and the rest of the world. He was greatly influenced by the blues and gigs in bars from his ghetto hometown in New Orleans where he was born. Bix Beiderbecke is among the first jazz soloists. However, his is the cornet style which is different from Armstrong's style. Beiderbecke was mainly self-taught although not entirely. He learned his skills from school or through interaction with other bands. Besides he was a composer more familiar with the piano. He preferred staying in the middle range and was more interested in lyrics and melody than the performance and emotional expression. He stared at his feet while performing or playing without engaging the listeners personally. Beiderbecke's was influenced by modernist composers and classical oriented Whiteman Orchestra.

Armstrong's Influence on School Desegregation

Armstrong used his popularity to raise a voice in support of school desegregation in the 1950s. He faced increased criticism from black fans and musicians years after the end the Second World War after he aired out his views based on the integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School. The governor was against African Americans being admitted to the school, and Armstrong was vocal about this actions in the press. He stated that the way his people were being treated in the South, the government could as well go to hell. and this made front-page news globally. Soon after he received criticism following this issue, it was seen as the most definitive and bravest moments of the musician's life to date. Armstrong later joined the more politically outspoken and younger generation of jazz musicians to criticize the reluctance of the federal government to challenge policies that segregated the southern states. His voice became an essential addition to the chorus against Jim Crow laws.

Musical Backgrounds and Influences, As Well As the Political and/or Social Conditions that Shaped Their Musical Lives

Louis Armstrong

Armstrong contributed greatly to redefining the playing of the trumpet. Stein states that Armstrong’s sense of timing and rhythm took jazz to another level which his musical background and influence shaped their arrival at the scene. He masterfully blended his musical history with the capability to reinterpret music for the coming generations, and this allowed him to spread music. Stein argues that in his career, Armstrong took dance music called Creole Jazz. He formally scripted this type of music and combined it with trumpeter Buddy Bolden. Bolden was more rough in his street music, and they collaborated to produce the hot jazz. He was able to achieve this great strides in his musical career with almost no recognized training. The informal musical training he had while wearing a uniform in an existent band and the lessons on trumpet helped him succeed in his new career. When he was a member of the group in the Waif Home, he received a chance to listen to some of the finest musicians in the city who played in a nearby club. In addition, a bandleader and trumpeter King Joe Oliver contributed to Armstrong’s musical background after he took him and trained him how to work on his playing technique and read music. Later, he got the opportunity to play in one of the most common marching orchestras of the day where he learned more about interaction with an audience and discipline. This chance enabled him to polish up his ability to write and read music.

Bix Beiderbecke

Beiderbecke is one of the greatest jazz musicians whose musical career began when he was a child and was able to pick out tunes on the piano. According to Gallagher, he had a traditional training on the piano and also taught himself the cornet. However, he craved the freedom of jazz, but his parents could not allow him. In 1921, he was sent to Lake Forest Academy that was located close to a center of jazz, Chicago. At the school, he missed classes and was expelled that forced him to become a full-time musician. He became the star cornetist of the Wolverines where they made some classic recordings. The group influenced him a great deal but soon he surpassed their playing, and he joined the Jean Goldkette's Orchestra. His incompetence to read music forced him to leave the group after which he spent time with Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra. He was able to record some solo masterpieces and grew to become a true Jazz musician in the twenties, but alcoholism and disillusionment caused his death.

Political and/or Social Conditions

According to Gioia, in the early years, organized crime impacted on the jazz world as it led to the demise of the Chicago jazz center. The place was familiar among jazz musicians as they had a stage to play their music. The police became strict in enforcing criminal laws, and this made the center un-safe for the musicians. There were joints where selling of illegal liquor was taking place, and the jazz musicians played their music and entertained immigrants and ordinary people in Chicago. These places had a vast audience that encouraged Armstrong and Beiderbecke to play jazz music and to live their lives at a faster pace.

The "Hot Jazz" Approach of Armstrong In Contrast To the "Cool, Reflective" Side of Beiderbecke

The playing of Beiderbecke is characterized by a calm and reflective style that has a great emotional impacted. His early solos when still playing with the Wolverines have a product of sensibility new to hot jazz that was common in Armstrong’s music style. Beiderbecke brought a new melodic line through redistribution, rearrangement, vocalization, and embellishment of phrases. In Armstrong's early music plays and recordings, he displays a skillful jazz player that has a fabulous range, amplitude, endurance, and density of sound. However, this is not common for Beiderbecke whose career never considered the cornet anything more than a conduit. His tone and technique were polished and full of surpassing beauty, but at no time greater than is sufficient to execute his musical intentions. Therefore, his playing cannot be classified in Armstrong's sense.

Beiderbecke's Smooth and Reflective Style vs Armstrong's Worldwide Popularity

Beiderbecke had a smooth, reflective, and refreshing sound that was popular among college students. He was a famous and sophisticated jazz cornet and piano player that brought out an elegant sound and rhythms that are appropriate with the classical music of the Whiteman Orchestra. Bix focused on working with brands and learned his skills from school. Armstrong used the trumpet-cornet and aimed to change the focus of solos in jazz where he learned his skills from an orphanage. Armstrong came to be labeled as a hot jazz player while Beiderbecke music was known for his melodies and lyrical style.

Reasons for Armstrong's World-Wide Popularity as Opposed to Beiderbecke's Relative Obscurity

Louis Armstrong became more popular than Bix Beiderbecke due to numerous reasons as seen here. First was his charismatic stage presence. This presence impresses the jazz world as well as the entire music world. Besides his unique vocals and daring trumpet style also led to his worldwide popularity. Additionally, he had composed and recorded several songs touched the hearts of everyone who listened to him. Having grown up in the ghetto, Armstrong was immersed in the ragtime and blues of the Storyville brothels and bars. Technically Armstrong would become the superior player between the two musicians because of the music life he grew in New Orleans. The absolute number of gigs, the noise level in parades and bars and the musical competitiveness combined to breed players like Armstrong who would then become popular worldwide. On the contrary, Beiderbecke grew up in Iowa which comprised of the whites who were middle-class. He, therefore, spent the most of his musical career playing classical music with Whiteman Orchestra. Having been influenced by the ancient European style, he developed a more relaxed, cerebral playing style. It was seen as entirely unsentimental leading to his less popularity worldwide.

His popularity is also attributed to his partnership and instant fitting into other musical styles including the piano which is seen when he formed a potent team with a young pianist Earl Hines which led to the recording of significant songs in the jazz history. The performance of West End Blues during its release by Armstrong also led to his popularity worldwide as it opened with a stunning cadenza which was featured with equal measures of blues and opera. This instantly demonstrated to the world that Armstrong’s musical type of dance jazz and fun was able to produce high art. His technique of swinging harder and playing all over the trumpet also gained him worldwide popularity. Beiderbecke, on the other hand, was melodically inventive, but his style was understated. He seemed focused on creating logical melody rather than expressing any emotions in his playing.


Deffaa, Chip. 1992. Voices of the Jazz Age: profiles of eight vintage jazzmen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Gallagher, William. 2012. The Beiderbecke Affair. London: BFI.

Gioia, Ted. 2011. The history of jazz. New York: Oxford University Press.

Shipton, Alyn. 2002. Jazz makers: vanguards of sound. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stein, Daniel. 2012. Music is my life: Louis Armstrong, autobiography, and American jazz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

April 13, 2023




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