Bix Museum Raising $12,000 For Renovation With Three Vital Artifacts
The $12,000 project will make it possible to permanently display Don Murray’s tenor saxophone and Bix’s tuxedo jacket and traveling trunk during the Paul Whiteman years in the museum. The saxophone was donated to the museum last year by Don Murray’s great-nephew, Justice Tom Harris Jr., and the tuxedo and trunk will be on permanent loan from Bix’s great-nephew, Chris Beiderbecke.
Funding for this project will cover the needed costs of cleaning and restoring the gold-plated 1923 saxophone, fabricating casements to house the new objects, and creating new signage in
Renovations are expected to be completed in July, just in time to celebrate the 50th-annual Bix Jazz Festival this Aug. 5-7 at Rhythm City Casino, Davenport.
“This project has been over a year in the making,” Bix Museum director Nathaniel Kraft said recently. “We started planning for it last February and then the pandemic closures made funding hard to come by, so we decided the best way to make sure it happens was to reach out to the Bix community.”
The Bix Museum has raised $5,000 of its total goal through an initial fundraiser, which has allowed the museum to begin the restoration work on Don Murray’s saxophone and the fabrication of its casement.
“We had a great first push when reaching out to supporters,” Kraft said. “There is a lot of excitement around finally getting these artifacts into the museum and especially in time for the big 50th Bix Festival.”
In order to raise the last $7,000 of the project goal, a member of the museum’s board has pledged (anonymously) to match $3,500 of the remaining project goal if the final $3,500 is met by May 31.
Murray was born in Joliet, Ill., attended high school in Chicago, and was a member with Bix in the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. Murray died, five days before his 25th birthday, on June 2, 1929, at a Los Angeles hospital after injuries sustained in a freak automobile accident.
Apparently, he was standing on the running board of a moving roadster and fell; he struck the back of his head on the pavement and was then hospitalized with serious head injury, according to findagrave.com.
Murray and Beiderbecke (who was born in Davenport in 1903) met in Chicago in 1921-22, but didn’t really play together until they were in Goldkette’s orchestra in 1927, Kraft said. “They played about a year together. They had grown to be really good friends.
“Murray moved out to California, played for a band in the film industry,” Kraft said, noting his accidental death was one of the main reasons
that led to a decline in Bix’s health. “It sent him into a big depression; he was already a big drinker.”
In February 1929, Beiderbecke returned home to Davenport to convalesce and was hailed by the local press as “the world’s hottest cornetist,” according to a bio. He spent the summer with Whiteman’s band in Hollywood in preparation for the shooting of a new talking picture, The King of Jazz.
Production delays prevented any real work from being done on the film, leaving Beiderbecke and his pals plenty of time to drink heavily. By September, he was back in Davenport, where his parents helped him to
seek treatment. He spent a month, from Oct. 14 until Nov. 18, at the Keeley Institute in Dwight, Ill.
An exam by Keeley physicians confirmed the damaging effects of Bix’s long-term reliance on alcohol, with a daily dose in the past three years of three pints of whiskey and 20 cigarettes.
While he was away, Whiteman famously kept his chair open in Beiderbecke’s honor, in the hope that he would occupy it again. However, when he returned to New York at the end of January 1930, Bix didn’t rejoin Whiteman and performed only sparingly.
On his last recording session, in New York, on Sept. 15, 1930, Beiderbecke played on the original recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s new song, “Georgia on My Mind.”
Bix died in his apartment, No. 1G, 43-30 46th Street, in Sunnyside, Queens, N.Y., on Aug. 6, 1931, at age 28, with the official cause of death lobar pneumonia, exacerbated by his alcoholism.
Famous sax and fundraising
Thomas Harris – who is donating the Don Murray saxophone – is an Appellate Judge in the Fourth Judicial District of Illinois. The 1923 C.G. Conn New Wonder Series I tenor saxophone was made in Elkhorn, Ind. The sax is gold-plated and covered in intricate engravings, one of which is the backside of a nude woman. The saxophone came with Don Murray’s reed and an early Otto Link Facing 3, series 59A mouthpiece, which would have been manufactured sometime between 1920-1927 and was a popular mouthpiece used by professional musicians, Kraft said.
All donors who give more than $100 to the museum renovation project will be honored with their names included on a donor label near Bix’s tuxedo when the renovations are completed.
If you would like to donate towards this historic project, you can donate online through the museum’s PayPal at www.bixmuseum.org/supportus or by mailing your donation to Bix Beiderbecke Museum & World Archives, PO Box 3052, Davenport, IA 52808.
The Bix Beiderbecke Museum is in the lower level of the River Music Experience at 2nd and Main Streets in downtown Davenport. The museum is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday by appointment only.
Admission is free. For more information, visit www.bixmuseum.org.