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Dan Bied 1925 - 1998by Wilma Dobie
Copyright © 1999 Wilma DobieFirst publication: Jazz Notes 1/1 1998
"I'm not a musician. My only instruments are the typewriter and camera," JJA member and author Dan Bied wrote in the preface to his Jazz Memories. The Iowa-born author of some twelve self-published books died suddenly March 25 and is buried in his beloved hometown Burlington. He is survived by his wife Millie (Mildred Stodgell Bied), his constant companion on jazz pilgrimages here and abroad.
The year his first self-published book of jazz appeared in 1994, it stirred the Des Moines Register to write in its editorial columns, "As Bied says, he's not a musician, just a reporter with a camera. But he has an exceptionally good ear and a good memory for all the times he crossed paths with the giants of a bygone era. His jotting is a footnote to a facet of Iowa history that's still vivid to many."
This "facet of Iowa history" nostalgically goes back to the big band era when Iowa was in the fabled Corn Belt and ten-to-twenty piece bands played in its every nook and corner. As a teenager Bied made the scene and recalled that as a high school student his sister introduced him to a local tavern piano player who played "In a Mist" for him. The haunting Beiderbecke song he heard so many years ago "hooked me forever on jazz," he wrote in his Jazz Memories.
Happily for the young jazz devotee, his father was an Al Jolson fan and together they drove to Chicago where they headed for the Hotel Sherman to hear the great bands of the day - Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Harry James, the Dorsey Brothers, Artie Shaw, Earl Hines, and many other memorable artists the young man was to write enthusiastically about in the years to come.
Scarcely out of his teens, Bied found himself plunged into World War II serving with the 106th Infantry Division in France where he was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. As a POW he recalls, "There were no radios in the prison camp, at least not in the coal mines where 25 of us worked. But I could still hear the music of Glenn Miller in my mind, along with Goodman's "Henderson Stomp" and Ellington's "Cottontail." Bied wrote of this and many more indelible experiences in, Hell On Earth, published in 1979 and now out of print. However, in tribute to the 106th Infantry Division's Battle of the Bulge Anniversary , he published 1945: A Remembrance, and a few copies are still available. Back home in Burlington, he resumed his jazz zeal, relaxing now and then with the water color painting that he had enjoyed from the time he started in high school.
As a working newspaperman Bide was accepted at Press Clubs everywhere across the country but the one he favored most was the Overseas Press Club of America because they presented Twilight Jazz programs under the wings of Earl Fatha Hines, a favorite musician of Bide's from his teenage years when he listened to him over the radio and caught him in Chicago, and "Loch Lomond" vocalist, Maxine Sullivan. This is where Bied and I first met and enjoyed our jazz talks, as he busily made notes as he talked with the performing artists whom he so enjoyed meeting and renewing old acquaintances with.
Besides the jazz world, long-ago Burlington was near and dear to Bied's heart and it was only natural that his first self-published book was the1975 Burlington Once Upon A Time, featuring along with his hometown recollections some exceptional vintage photos. Among his memories as a youngster he vividly tells about hearing the sounds of the calliopes in the downtown areas of Burlington that "set my toes tapping . . . If a musician's role is to make people happy, the calliope players earned their pay."
Needless to say, when the Jefferson Street Jazz Fest was launched in 1994 Dan Bied was among its strong supporters and reveled in the "second wind" of those memorable Steamboat Days on the river he enjoyed so much as a youngster. Now , he had not only the pleasure of listening to great jazz again on the river and writing about it but determined to help the non-profit organization support live jazz and give aid to student music programs. During the Iowa Sesquicentennial at the 1996 Jazz Fest On the River Bide was honored for his endeavors and reported in his jazz column, "It was a distinct honor and a genuine surprise to be named Viceroy of the 1996 On the River."
In recent years more writers have turned to self-publishing their own books as ads in various magazines, journals and even some Sunday newspapers will attest. DU members who might consider this undertaking would do well to consider Bied's thoughts he wrote in the Preface to his twelfth and final book, Dan Bied's Jazz Reader, "It is a full load to write, edit, design, and then try to sell a self-published book. It requires knowledge of the subject, of course, and research chores. It also involves financial risk, an optimistic outlook and, perhaps most important of all, a willingness to `hang in there."' The author adds that he was ready to "throw in the towel" often and would have done so had it not been for the unfailing, ever-encouraging support provided by his wife Millie. Bide once remarked to a friend, Bobby Wilson, "I'd be satisfied if on my tombstone it just read, 'He Tried To Communicate.'"
Jazz readers know that Dan Bied not only tried but handsomely succeeded.
[Dan Bied's Jazz Reader is reviewed by Jerry Kline in the Library - Ed.]