The Friends of the Davenport Public Library recently won a state of Iowa grant to make material about jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke much more accessible to the public.

The library earned nearly $15,000 from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to digitize audio recordings for the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and World Archive, which opened three years ago at the lower level of River Music Experience, 2nd and Main streets, Davenport.

Bix Beiderbecke was born in Davenport in 1903.

The collection of 239 reel-to-reel tapes and other media formats, including cassettes, CDs and VHS tapes, has been stored at the lower level of the Davenport Main Library, said Kathryn Kuntz, special collections supervisor at the library, 321 Main St.

“Since audio-visual materials require a little bit more care than just our regular paper documents, we want to make sure that we’re not doing any harm trying to use them,” she said. “So, this grant, through the HRDP, is a really great opportunity to digitize them, and make them accessible to the public.”

The HRDP is the state Historical Research Development Program (under IDCA), which makes annual grants for documentary collection, in partnership with the State Historical Society. For the past two years, the library has tried to work on ways to make the museum collection more accessible to the public, through the library’s website, Kuntz said.

“They have an archival collection they wanted to provide better housing for and more access to – because their space is pretty much the museum at the RME. So in partnership with them, they’re still the owners of the collection, but we are the stewards. We have taken on the charge to provide access and preserve these materials for them.”

The tapes include interviews with contemporaries of Bix (who died in 1931); people who have been influenced by him; other jazz greats, and recordings of music.

The Bix Fest logo

Nathaniel Kraft is the first director of the Bix Museum at RME.

The digitization will be done by Media Transfer Service in New York, which is expert in the field and works with many libraries, historical and cultural institutions, Kuntz said.

They will stabilize the recordings as well as make digital copies. This project (to be done by 2022, and ideally before then) won’t digitize document, she said. There will be links from the Bix museum website as well, bixmuseum.org.

“That way, people can find them from all over the world, and our local community, so people know we have them and can make use out of them.”

Nathaniel Kraft, Bix Museum director, said he’d like to include some of the recordings in a future exhibit.

“We wanted those objects to be used for research, so it had been discussed that the best way to do that was to make it more accessible online, rather than everyone coming in and seeing the objects in person,” he said.

“Some of the best pieces we would have would be the audio interviews, with people who have memories with Bix or about Bix, things like that,” Kraft said.

“Being able to keep all those things accessible would be really great for people to continue to this day, to hear in the own words of those people, their stories, they had once shared with us, and many of them are no longer here.”

The museum is in the lower level of River Music Experience, Davenport.

The museum opened in August 2017 at the lower level of the River Music Experience building, 2nd and Main Streets, in downtown Davenport.

The 1,500-square-foot museum evokes the era of the 1920s, including a re-creation of the bandstand at Hudson Lake, Ind., where Bix (1903-1931) spent his summer of 1926 playing with the Goldkette Orchestra. A lakeside mural by Davenport’s Bruce Walters forms the backdrop to the stage, which includes instruments featured in that band, to be highlighted by a life-size mannequin of Bix seated with a cornet on his lap.

The Bix Beiderbecke Museum and Archive preserves the memory and legacy of the legendary jazz cornetist, pianist and composer, featuring many original artifacts related to Bix and his colleagues.

Visitors can see instruments played by Bix, including the only piano Bix owned. The museum takes patrons chronologically through his tumultuous, all-too-brief life — with the display of letters, sheet music, photos, recordings and videos.

The extensive collection includes original Bix letters, photos and other documents, and memorabilia (and the tapes) from an associate of Phil and Linda Evans, who wrote seminal books about Bix.

The museum features the 1931 piano from his apartment in Queens, N.Y.

Since reopening July 1, the museum has seen visitors from all over the country, though it’s much less than a typical summer, Kraft said.

“We’ve had quite a few out-of-state people see the museum since opening,” he said. “With the race and the fest being virtual this year, we’re losing a lot of guests we’d normally have during that time period. It’s a lot more than we’ve had the last few months while closed. Any number of people has been a good thing for us.”

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Saturdays have moved to by appointment only.

Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted.

Jazz fest is virtual this weekend

The 49th-annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport also is moving online this year, July 31 and Aug. 1, at bixsociety.org. It had been scheduled for the Rhythm City Casino Event Center in Davenport, but bands this time will record videos that can be seen for free, said Steve Trainor, Bix Society board president.

NOLA Jazz Band is from Des Moines, scheduled to perform in this weekend’s fest.

“I think the majority of the board of directors of the Bix Jazz Society had felt, almost from the beginning that this was not going to be your typical year,” he said earlier this summer.

“And like everyone else, the more we learned every day, every week, the less reasonable it seemed to hold a live festival and we were still holding out hope. But it kept getting to a point where we really had to decide to do something.”

One of the biggest concerns of the board was, many performers and visitors would not be able to travel to attend, Trainor said, noting a majority of patrons come from out of state.

The scheduled bands this year are: Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles (from Denver); Chicago Cellar Boys, led by Andy Schumm; Vine Street Rumble (Kansas City); NOLA Jazz Band (Des Moines), and from the Quad Cities, the Josh Duffee Quartet, Manny Lopez Big Band, and the Bix Youth Band, comprised of area teens.

Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles is from Denver, scheduled to play in this weekend’s fest.

The Bix fest attracts an older-age demographic, who are also at higher risk of contracting the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, Trainor said.

“With this virus, people may feel fine, but you just never know if you’re gonna catch it. We didn’t want to be responsible for bringing people together and then having someone get sick.”

Another plus by having the fest online is, people can watch the bands during the actual dates or anytime afterward. The 1920s and ‘30s traditional jazz music will premiere on the festival dates, Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Typically, the bash is the organization’s annual fundraising event to help pay for next year, and proceeds are also used to sponsor a Bix Youth Jazz Band and director, provide music scholarships and promote traditional jazz-era music, Trainor said. The society will encourage donations to help offset the costs of providing this virtual jazz fest, music scholarships and programs. Donations are not required to see the bands perform online.

Photos from the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Fest at Rhythm City Casino.

On the newly redesigned website, you can also buy a Bix Virtual Jazz Fest T-shirt for $15, through Aug. 9.

Despite not having an in-person event this summer, they’ll continue to give Youth Band seniors each a $1,000 scholarship, and rest of the band’s students $100 each. The society also maintains an office on the lower level at River Music Experience, 129 Main St., Davenport.

Trainor said that 34 jazz festivals have died in the last 12 years, “so we’re doing our best to keep what we think is the best jazz fest in the Midwest alive.”

“We’re going to kick off our fundraising campaign,” he said of seeking donations this year. “We may do something like ’50 for 50’ — $50,000 over the next year for our 50th anniversary in 2021. We hope that not only will send us a portion of what they might have spent traveling to Davenport, but throughout the year we will be able to continue to fundraise and spend more money on more bands for 2021.”

The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society was founded in 1971, in Bix’s hometown of Davenport, to help keep alive the memory and musical accomplishments of the legendary cornetist, pianist and composer.

Its first Bix jazz fest was that first impromptu session held that same year. It was led by a New Jersey band, to mark the 40th anniversary of Bix’s death at 28, Aug. 6, 1931, in his Queens, N.Y., apartment. He died from pneumonia, exacerbated by alcoholism.

Photos from the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Fest at Rhythm City Casino.

Bill Donahoe’s Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Band of New Jersey came to Davenport in the summer of ‘71 to visit Bix’s boyhood home (1934 Grand Ave.), sites where he’d played, and to pay musical tribute over his grave in Oakdale Memorial Park.

They also played a jam session at the then-Davenport Holiday Inn.

Putting on an annual festival the size of this musical tribute to Bix is tremendously expensive and ticket fees alone cannot begin to sustain it, according to bixsociety.org. Continued success is dependent upon grants, sponsors, and donations large and small from Bix fans.

Trainor said donations can be made to BBMS, 129 N. Main St., Davenport, IA  52801. BBMS is a non-profit organization and donations are tax-deductible. Or, if you like, call 563-324-7170, for the various donor levels or check the website on the Sponsorship Opportunities page.

Trainor said next year’s festival is planned for Aug. 5-7, 2021.

“The good news is three-fifths of our audience are from out of state. The bad news is, three-fifths of our audience are from out of state,” he said. “We wish that more locals would give it a try, taste test trad jazz.”

“I like to say that trad jazz is fun and sometimes funny. They don’t write ‘em like this anymore,” Trainor said. “The musicianship is terrific. You can’t believe, it’ll get you right out of your seat. We’ve had people tell us, time and again, the room becomes electric. That’s why I wish our locals would really give it a taste test.”

In early May, the Bix 7 road race (which for many years was held the same weekend as the jazz fest) announced it would move to a virtual format in 2020 for the race’s 46th running, also from concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.