Happy birthday, Mr. Beiderbecke!
Favorite Bix anecdote…during the last year of his life, he was living in a borrowed apartment in Queens, where he would often sit up late at night drinking and doodling about on his horn, trying out new things. One day the downstairs neighbors called the apartment owner and mentioned that they were hearing the cornet at four in the morning.
“Oh, my god,” said the owner. “I’ll talk to him about it!”
“Oh, please don’t,” the neighbor said. “We wouldn’t want him to STOP…”
Cornets were the typical lead instrument in New Orleans brass bands and the first jazz groups, primarily because there were a lot of them around…you could find 'em used in pawnshops for a few bucks, castoffs from the military and other brass bands.
By the late '20s/early '30s, nearly all jazz cornetists (including Louis Armstrong) had switched to the brighter, more direct sound of the trumpet. (The cornet has a conical bore, like an F horn or tuba, and therefore has a mellower tone than the cylindrically-bored trumpet.)
BY the '40s and '50s, a few trumpeters had switched back to cornet, liking the “rounder” sound…Ray Nance of the Ellington band, was one; Nat Adderley, Cannonball’s brother, was another. Most trumpeters preferred to double on fleugelhorn, though, which is an even softer-sounding variant.
Cornets are still around, though, if you look hard enough. I own two of 'em.