Great Encounters #30: When Eddie Condon first heard Bix Beiderbecke

December 4th, 2013

Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
Eddie Condon
Eddie Condon

Eddie Condon — a great guitarist/banjoist/bandleader of the Jazz Age era — recalls the day in Chicago in 1922 when he first met and heard the cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. 

As told in Remembering Bix: A Memoir of the Jazz Age by Ralph Berton


One day Pee Wee Rank, a drummer, called me from Chicago. “How would you like to play in Syracuse?” He was on his way to the Tri-Cities – Rock Island, Moline, and Davenport – to round up talent…”Meet me at the LaSalle Street Station at eight o’clock tomorrow night.” At eight o’clock the next night I stood in the station and watched Pee Wee come at me with three other guys. One of them was a kid in a cap with the peak broken. He had on a green overcoat from the walk-up-and-save-ten district; the collar was off his neck. He had a round face and eyes that had no desire to focus on what was in front of him. Pee Wee introduced us.

  “This is Bix Beiderbecke.”

  I’ve made a mistake, I thought. I’m stuck with this clamdigger for two months.

  “Hello,” Beiderbecke said. Great talker, I thought.

  “We have a couple of hours before the train leaves for Syracuse,” Pee Wee said. “Bix wants to go to the College Inn and see Louis Panico….”

  The College Inn was in the Sherman House, a Loop hotel. Louis Panico was playing trumpet in Isham Jones’s band. He…had written Wabash Blues, and was getting $350 a week. They’ll never let us in, I thought. This corncobber probably has heard Louis on a record and hasn’t any better sense than to think he can march in wearing that cap and hear him play. I fell back and walked with Hostetter.

  “Is Beiderbecke our cornet player?” I asked.

  “By way of understatement, yes,” Hostetter said. “Wait until you hear him play. You’ll go nuts.”

  I can believe it, I thought. What kind of music have these guys heard?…How can a guy in a cap and a green overcoat play anything civilized?”

  We walked right into the College Inn without being stopped…I spotted Panico about the time he saw Beiderbecke. His face lighted up like a drunk on Christmas Eve.

  “Bix!” he yelled…The boys in the band looked around as if free drinks had been announced. Beiderbecke must be something, I thought, but what?…My eyes were just getting used to the glare when Pee Wee said, “Bix wants to go to the Friars’ Inn.”

  Well, I thought, they let us in here, why not the Friars’ Inn? The Friars’ Inn was a flashy cabaret for big spenders. For music it had the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the famous white jazz band. I had heard their records on Gennett…They had Leon Rappolo on clarinet; he was already a legend. Jack Pettis on C-melody saxophone, Elmer Schoebel on piano, Frank Snyder on drums, George Brunies trombone, banjo Lew Black. On string bass was Arnold Loyocano; Don Murray on tenor sax. Hostetter repeated their names as if he were nominating an all-American football team. “There’s nothing better,” he said. Then he added, as if it was something I ought to know and keep quiet about, “Schoebel reads music.”

  …The players fell over themselves greeting Beiderbecke….”How about sitting in, Bix?” one of them said. Beiderbecke smile like an embarrassed kid and muttered something….He sat down – at the piano. Clarinet Marmalade, someone said. Bix nodded and hit the keys.

  Then it happened. All my life I had been listening to music…But I had never heard anything remotely like what Beiderbecke played. For the first time I realized music isn’t all the same, it had become an entirely new set of sounds….

  The next day we got up as the train came into Cleveland. With nothing to do but stare at the scenery from there to Buffalo, I began to wonder again about the cornet. I got out my banjo. Eberhardt dug up his saxophone and doodled along with me. Finally Beiderbecke took out a silver cornet. He put it to his lips and blew a phrase. The sound came out like a girl saying yes.


Book excerpt from Remembering Bix: A Memoir of the Jazz Age by Ralph Berton



“I’m Coming Virginia,” by Bix Beiderbecke

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache


In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art


“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #127

Before his tragic early death, this trumpeter played with Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and John Coltrane, and most famously during a 1961 Five Spot gig with Eric Dolphy (pictured). Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.


Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.


Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive