American jazz cornetist, pianist, and composer, b. Davenport, Iowa. Mainly self-taught, he was influenced by recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and by the music of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jimmie Noone. His cornet playing, noted for its brilliant phrasing and its clarity of tone, soon won him a reputation. A sensitive, lonely man driven by artistic ambition, he was forced to play in the large commercial bands. Unhappy and restless, he changed jobs often, drank heavily, was frequently ill, and finally died of pneumonia. His piano compositions, including In a Mist, were influenced by Debussy.
See C. H. Wareing and George Garlick, Bugles for Beiderbecke (1958); biographies by Burnett James (1961) and R. M. Sudhalter and P. R. Evans (1974).
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