Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Andy Secrest
'first-rate hot man in the making'

 

 

Andy Secrest

 

In October 1927, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, probably the most successful band of the time, but by 1928, Bix's alcohol dependancy was catching up with him. In December that year, Bix dropped out and entered a hospital in Long Island. He returned in January 1929, but he was far from well. At the end of January, Bix stayed in Cleveland in the care of a male nurse when the orchestra moved on to Detroit:

'Whiteman (was) lacking a hot soloist in the trumpet section. At Min Leibrook's suggestion, the 'King Of Jazz' once again turned to Jean Goldkette for help. One of Goldkette's most promising young musicians was a cornetist named Andy Secrest ..... Not yet 22, Secrest had fallen hard under Bix's spell ..... Secrest, moreover, was a quick and sure reader, making him, for Whiteman's purposes, the ideal stand-in; capable of holding his own on the arrangements, yet able to simulate the sound and style of Bix in solo spots ....'

From Cleveland, Bix returned home to Davenport where he stayed for the rest of February.

 

'Bix returned from Davenport on Monday, March 4. To Andy Secrest’s astonishment, Whiteman dropped not him, but Eddie Pinder, from the band. “I was completely floored,” he said, “I was nervous as anything, just sitting next to Bix. He was my idol. The master. At that time the Whiteman band was the band, and all the musicians would come to hear us. Consequently, the guys in the band were fighting for solo spots so the rest of the musicians, out in the audience, could see us being featured. We loved to show off, but when Andy SecrestBix came back he insisted that I take the solos. He seemed to get a kick out of hearing me play. He was a very gentle person, you know – so gentle that I really felt that if I didn’t take the solos he would personally feel hurt.”

“With night after night of sitting next to him, I guess I absorbed his style. He so influenced me that I subconsciously was becoming anotherBix-styled horn and playing ideas that I’d associate with him. But believe me, it was due to my worship of the guy, not trying to copy and cash in on his fame. Let’s face it – he was the master. I was just overawed at being next to him.”

It’s easy to sympathize with Secrest’s plight. Perhaps more than any other white jazzman of his period, he has suffered the curse of living in another man’s shadow. Where Sterling Bose, Jimmy McPartland, Red Nichols and others who consciously modelled themselves after Bix nonetheless achieved a good measure of acclaim on their own merits, Secrest has for decades been one of jazz’s “unpersons.” It is almost as though he were being tacitly punished for the circumstances into which he found himself drawn when Whiteman took him on.

The job was certainly a mixed blessing. To play with Paul Whiteman was honor enough, but to play alongside, and eventually replace, Bix Beiderbecke was dazzling for the 21-year-old Midwesterner. Such events soon forced him into a comparison unfair by any standard. He was young and relatively inexperienced, his style still in the formative stages. Yet he was being paid top money by the leader of the biggest dance band in the business to sound as much as possible like the man who had been his inspiration. Little surprise that Secrest’s solos on Whiteman and Trumbauer records of this period hardly stand critical comparison to Bix’s. Judged by any objective standard, most are perfectly acceptable; well executed and conceived, played with good tone and engaging lilt. Were it not for the shade of Bix hovering over them, determining even the role of the instrument within the arrangements, Secrest’s efforts might now be praised as those of a first-rate hot man in the making.

Later, as an older, more experienced musician, Andy Secrest demonstrated an individual musical personality which, while owing much to Bix, was as much his own voice as were those of Bose, McPartland or Nichols. His solos on such Bing Crosby recordings as the 1937 Decca “Smarty,” with John Scott Trotter’s orchestra, are excellent jazz cornet playing by any standard.

 

Listen to Andy Secrest on Smarty.

 

 

 

But jazz history has taken little note of such developments. For most of the music’s public Andy Secrest has remained, unjustly, the man who was unable to assume instant immortality as a surrogate Bix Beiderbecke. That he should have been penalized for this over an entire career is, in an objective critical view, unpardonable.’

From Bix: Man And Legend by Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans

 

Writer and broadcaster Alyn Shipton writes: 'If you want a long introduction, I suggest this book, which I first read in French and then commissioned the translation for Continuum. It is a lot more up to date than the famous Bix Man and Legend by Evans and Sudhalter - click here.

 

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2021

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