If one has been subjected to a great deal of contemporary jazz, especially the more challenging sort, it's difficult to remember just how joyous jazz was in the beginning. Even the best players like Louis Armstrong played happy music. The Bix Beiderbecke Centennial All Stars celebrate one such happy stylist, the late, great Bix Beiderbecke. Given the attention Beiderbecke received from Ken Burns' Jazz, it seems ironic that the cornet player considered himself "a failure musically and personally," as the album's liner notes state. Just about everyone, from peers like Hoagy Carmichael to the wonderful musicians that compose the All Stars, however, beg to differ. Celebrating Bix! does just that by creating fresh arrangements for 19 pieces that date back to Beiderbecke's heyday. Most interestingly, perhaps, the cornetist's solos have been scored for a full battery of instruments, giving the contemporary listener a chance to enjoy the breadth of an artist's work in many contexts. The basic arrangements on pieces like "Deep Harlem" and "Riverboat Shuffle" include a lively mixture of pianos, trombones, clarinets, and, of course, cornets. The solo work by cornetist Randy Reinhart, pianist Mark Shane, and alto Jack Stuckey is superb. The liner notes are extensive and include a short introduction, an essay on Beiderbecke, and a breakdown of the song choices. In this way, a listener new to one of the keenest innovators in jazz can absorb his biography and music at once. Celebrating Bix! is a jubilant, overflowing tribute that shows the listener just how much life remains in classic jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.