At the suggestion of Linda Weimer in the U.S.A., we feature two different approaches to Davenport Blues. The tune composed and recorded by cornettist Bix Beiderbecke and named after his home town. Linda, however, discovered a version by Scottish cornettist Alex Welsh and pianist Fred Hunt where she says "the official Bix Beiderbecke website states flatly that the Welsh and Hunt version of Bix's most known composition remains the best ever recorded."
If we start with the Bix Beiderbecke version, Wikipedia describes it in some detail: ""Davenport Blues" was recorded by Bix Beiderbecke and His Rhythm Jugglers at the Gennett studio on Monday, January 26, 1925, in Richmond, Indiana and released as Gennett 5654 backed with "Toddlin' Blues" as the A side. The band consisted of Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Paul Madeira Mertz on piano, Don Murray on clarinet, Howdy Quicksell on banjo, Tom Gargano on drums, and Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. Hoagy Carmichael was present at the recording session. The title derives from the name of Bix Beiderbecke's hometown of Davenport, Iowa. "
"The instrumental is made up of a four bar introduction, a 16 bar verse followed by a 32 bar chorus, after which the verse and chorus are repeated with a 2 bar extended ending. The same melody is used for the verses, but both choruses have different melodies though nearly identical chords. Only on the last refrain of the chorus do we hear the melody which can be identified as "Davenport Blues". Both choruses end in different chord progressions. In the first chorus Bix plays breaks over chords."
We can listen to it here.
The version by Alex Welsh and Fred Hunt is quite different. Linda Weimer wrote to us having seen a brief page on our site about Alex who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1929 and became a popular cornet and trumpet player and bandleader in the late 1950s and 1960s. He sadly passed through the Departure Lounge in 1982 at the age of 52.
"I just accidentally discovered Alex Welsh's music about 5-6 years ago when I was researching numbers recorded by Bix Beiderbecke. I soon came upon Alex's version of Davenport Blues, which blew me away to the extent that I am still forwarding it to others when I learn they are serious jazz listeners, and occasionally to professional musicians here in the USA who had not heard it."
"His and Fred's version is so original. It truly makes the piece a blues whereas recordings from the 1920s through the early big band years were mostly played as a jaunty up-tempo number. Even Bix's youthful version is quick and superficial. I am still curious but somehow imagine that Alex and Fred Hunt came up with their bluesy version as a joint discovery."
As Linda says, the version is praised by the official Bix Beiderbecke website: "Louis Armstrong, recently deceased, was the subject of a memorial concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in November 1971. On that night Davenport Blues was played as a duet by Alex Welsh on cornet and Fred Hunt on piano. A CD of Alex Welsh’s contribution to the concert has been issued (but it is hard to get). This time it is slowed right down, concentrating solely on the chorus. Welsh’s entry after an opening piano flourish from Hunt is stately. The theme is played simply with some flourishes but never straying far from the melody. At this tempo the melody opens out, and seems more like a real blues than it is. Welsh’s cornet is clean; it has something of Bix’s bell like tone but with a burnished quality that gives it more warmth. Welsh plays the “blue” C sharps and A flats with relish, leaning on and roughening them. He gives the melody weight, drama and pathos."
"Hunt’s solo starts with broad sweeping arpeggios interrupted by a brief boogie passage. The florid right hand gives way to single note flurries, a section in double time with stride like piano towards the end. Then Welsh returns. He plays an inversion of the melody, with interpolations of real blues inflections before coming back to the melody and some double time interplay with Hunt’s piano. In the second sixteen bars he stays close to the melody, with grace notes over double time, then to the last four bars played simply and straight to a gentle close in slower time. At the end is Hunt's poignant reprise of the opening notes of the melody high up over Welsh’s long held final low note on cornet."
"There are other versions of Davenport Blues. But there is no doubt that the version played by Alex Welsh and Fred Hunt at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 28 November 1971 in honour of Louis Armstrong is the finest ever record."
We can listen to it here.