The Quad cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, and Moline and Rock Island, IL, form an intersection on the Mississippi River. Iowa, itself, may seem to be an odd location for a great jazz tradition, except for the location of the river. The river winds its way from Lake Itasca, MN, to New Orleans, LA, with a stop at St. Louis, MO; seemingly fostering an artistic ambience exemplified by everything from Mark Twain's beloved stories in Hannibal, MO, to the rich musical layers of the New Orleans Jazz tradition. So, the seeming irony of the corn belt being a hotbed of jazz is not so ironic when one considers the river, with its huge, powerful, mass, bisecting this great country. Its rolling undulations seem to be a perfect birthplace for this truly American art form that we call Jazz.
I quote from the Smithsonian Magazine. Bix Beiderbecke taught himself to play the cornet when he was in his teens, and died in 1931 at the age of 28. During his brief career, says author Fred Turner, he became one of the true sensations of the Jazz Age, unforgettable to anyone who ever heard him. So unforgettably, in fact, that the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held each July draws some 15,000 jazz aficionados to Davenport, Iowa, where the jazz legend was born.
What made this young musician so memorable? The qualities that strike the modern listener, are the ones that awed his contemporaries! The round shimmering tone! The deliberateness of the attack that still manages to flow. "The best of his solos", said critic Chip Deffay, "seem absolutely perfect! One cannot conceive of them being improved upon." Guitarist Eddie Condon said Bix's horn sounded like a girl saying yes.
Another part of Bix's appeal, says Turner, derives from the way he lived. He was a handsome young man who never grew old, whose frenetic pace matched that of the then new music, which he helped to create. When fans took him partying, they found that he liked the things they liked, especially "prohibition" alcohol, which he could consume in enormous quantities. "With the aid of booze", said Eddie Condon, " he drove away all other things - food, sleep, women, ambition, vanity, desire. He played the piano and the cornet, that was all."
|"But in the end", says Turner, "despite his brief fame, despite the ghastly death, there remains the beautiful sound he made and left behind."|
The festival started 27 years ago. Quad City Times columnist Bill Wondram remembers it well. "I was in it from the beginning", he says. "Wayne Rohlf, a Davenport guy who knew and played with Bix, called me one day over at the old building", he said. I quote from the Quad City Times. "Rohlf, now deceased, told about this bunch of Bix fanatics who were heading to Bix's grave to play music and honor the late musician. These were some of Bix's fanatics in New Jersey, who once a year would have a Bix bash. They kept their clocks set permanently on the date and hour that he died! The group arrived at the grave site - "they were really good", Wondram remembers - and the afternoon paper featured a photo of the memorial, with "Bix Lives!"
"It began with one band with a bunch of fanatics. Now it's an event", Wondram said. "All of a sudden, we have people again downtown. It's alive!"
With this in mind, we can start to understand how an enterprising group, headed by Ed Froelich, and sponsored by The Quad City Times, created this concept of having a week long Jazz Festival culminated by a big time road race. Under the guidance of Froelich, the race has blossomed to its present status, as one of the premier road races in America. The race started in 1975, with 84 runners. Lucian Rosa, a world class runner from Sri Lanka, won the race in 41:04.
Well, the race has come a long way since "75". This years race had a field of over 20,000. The week long festivities are embraced by the local community, in a manner second to none. Great music, a big time road race, and an involved and tremendously enthusiastic community, with the addition of the great sponsorship of the "Times", make for a high energy event that is truly unique.
We all know what Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson have meant to running. They both personify what is great about this sport of ours. Their achievements in the Boston Marathon (Bill four wins, Joan two wins), and on the national and international arenas (Joan's Olympic gold medal in '84, Bill Fukuoka win in '77, bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco in '75), along with their appealing personalities and their commitment to the sport, have made them America's premier running representatives. They are international icons and represent everything that is compelling and wonderful about the sport of distance running.
Bill won the race in '80 and '81. In 1980, his first Bix, he was the the class of the field. He cruised to a victory with a time of 33:58, a course record. Bill had tougher competition in '81, in the person of Frank Shorter. He beat Frank by 24 seconds, breaking his own course record. Joan won the race four times; '83, '85, '86, and '88. In '83, she shattered the womens course record in 37:26. In '85, returning from her gold medal performance in L.A., she finished more than a minute ahead of the second fastest female entry. She cruised to a victory in '86. In '88, she was supposed to be an also ran in a women's field that included defending champion Francie Larrieu Smith, Brenda Webb, Cyndie Weite, and Pricilla Welch. She surprised observers by beating second place Webb by 46 seconds for her fourth Bix title on six years. These victories alone would put Bill and Joan up there with all of the Bix greats, but their contributions to the race go beyond just racing. They both have been relentless in helping to promote the race, to make it what it is today.
This is the 25th anniversary of the Bix 7. On this silver anniversary Bill and Joan are being honored with statues in much the same way that Johnny Kelley is honored in Boston by the statue at the base of Heartbreak Hill.
|The Bix 7 is road racing's feel good story of the year. It represents everything that is good about the sport of road racing in this country. Like most great races, it evolved out of a small event. In a healthy, organic, way it grew, through the nurturing of The Quad City Times, Ed Froelich, and the citizens of Davenport, gradually into the huge event that it is today. It has been embraced by many of the world's road racers as an event that is an annual stop on their racing schedule each year. Unlike most other road races, it's growth of a small gathering of jazz enthusiasts, into a huge week long festival, is truly unique. This wonderfully unique combination of factors makes it the major event that it is.|
On this, the 25th anniversary of the event, Ed Froelich and his dedicated staff, have chosen to honor Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson. A better choice they could not have made. For it is not only because of their magnificent racing achievements that they are being honored. It is also for who they are as people, representing their sport with a sense of class and dignity. The combination of this uniquely dynamic event, with the honoring of Joan and Bill, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, make this years event extra special.
So, it is because of this sense of enthusiastic tradition, that classic corner honors the Bix 7 this month, with a heartfelt appreciation to Bill, Joan, and all of the people who put on the race. It shows you what a combination of old fashioned enthusiasm, and top shelf hospitality can do to make an event great.
Congratulations to the Bix 7 for 25 years of putting on a road race that is 2nd to none, and congratulations to Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson for giving us so many thrills for so many years, and for representing our sport in such a classy and enthusiastic way!