Bix & Tram
This newly appended collection encompasses most every record that these two men made together, augmented by the Bix & His Gang sessions and a handful of uncommon sides from both 1924 and 1934, which pre- and post-date Tram's involvement with Bix. Three of the four discs each contain no less than 13 instrumentals, ranging from solid to positively gorgeous. Disc "C" has only seven instrumentals. This collection's 34 non-instrumentals place the listener at the mercy of period vocalists, some sing through their noses, others whimper like Elmer Fudd, while a few stoop so low as to imitate vaudeville black-face comedians. The specter of white guys drawling at each other in weird false dialect should serve to remind everyone how prevalent Jim Crow was in the music industry between 1895 and, say, 1945. Hearing wholesome young Bing Crosby sing "When the Darkies Beat Their Feet On the Mississippi Mud" puts both the singer and his society in perspective. The best of the Jim Crow numbers is "Take Your Tomorrow," a performance that actually demonstrates authentic vaudeville humor and timing. "Borneo" is worth having just for Beiderbecke's lovely ascending cornet run during the introduction. As any seasoned early jazz listener can testify, even the grossest vocalist cannot entirely wreck a recording if the guys in the band are solid. Bite your lip, take a breath, and wait for the solos. Now you know why Eddie Condon referred to most recorded vocal passages as "interruptions." And even if that is the nefarious Smith Ballew singing "Louise," the melody is wonderful and it's nice to hear the lyric. Even if it is the Deep River Quintet heard singing Fats Waller's "I'm More Than Satisfied," where else are listeners going to hear the words to this underappreciated opus? Most importantly, this massive quarry of vintage music puts the more commonly heard material in context by lining it up alongside the rest of what was deemed appropriate for the record-buying public so many years ago. And that itself is worth far more than the price of admission.