As a boy, Bix Beiderbecke had a few piano lessons, but he was self-taught on cornet and developed an unorthodox technique by playing along with recordings. His family disapproved of his interest in jazz and sent him to Lake Forest Academy in 1921, but the opportunity to play and hear jazz in nearby Chicago caused frequent truancy and eventually his expulsion. After several months working for his father in Davenport, he turned to a career in music.
Based in Chicago, he became known through his playing and recordings with the Wolverines in 1924. In the same year, he began a long association with Frankie Trumbauer , recording with him in New York; after working with Jean Goldkette's dance band (1924), he played with Trumbauer's group in St. Louis (1925-6). His association with Trumbauer broadened his musical experience and improved his music reading, in which, however, he was never to become adept. In late 1926, he and Trumbauer joined Goldkette and were prominent members of his group in New York until it disbanded in September 1927. They then joined Paul Whiteman's band, with which, and with various groups under their own names, they made a series of influential recordings.
Beiderbecke's alcoholism caused his health to deteriorate, and he was frequently unable to perform. He left Whiteman in September 1929; his hopes of rejoining the group after recuperation were not realized. Until his death, he worked in New York in a radio series with the Dorsey brothers a few times, with the Casa Lorna Orchestra, and with Benny Goodman.