Quad-Cities’ Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival Goes Virtual This Year
Joining the cavalcade of Quad-Cities cultural offerings impacted by Covid-19, the 49th-annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport also is moving online this year, July 31 and Aug. 1. 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.
“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 Monday.
“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.
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, July 31st from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 1st from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Typically, the bash is the organization’s annual fundraising event, and proceeds are 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.
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, though the virtual fest will be free to view. “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.
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.”
The annual Bix birthday bash wasn’t canceled, on March 8, the weekend before his actual birthday (March 10). Presented for free with the Catfish Jazz Society, the afternoon of jazz and food was held at the Knights of Columbus hall in Davenport.
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.
Participants can take part in the Bix 7, Prairie Farms Quick Bix and the Arconic Jr. Bix in a virtual format this year, completing their race distance from July 1 through July 25, the original scheduled date for this year’s race. Runners and walkers can participate from any location they like – such as a sidewalk, treadmill, trail, living room or track, and then submit their finishing times online.
The Bix Beiderbecke Museum – on the lower level of RME — plans to reopen on July 1, said executive director Nathaniel Kraft. The hours will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, and by appointment on Saturdays. It closed on March 23.
It is operated not by the BBMS, but an independent board of directors. The museum opened in 2017, and includes 10 sections about Bix’s brief but eventful life. Exhibits include his last piano and apartment artifacts, and the guestbook from his funeral in Davenport.
Kraft was hired as the first museum director this past winter; he earned his master’s in museum studies at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities in 2019.