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Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet was the first important jazz soloist on records in history (beating Louis Armstrong by a few months). A brilliant soprano saxophonist and clarinetist with a wide vibrato that listeners either loved or hated, Bechet's style did not evolve much through the years but he never lost his enthusiasm or creativity. A master at both individual and collective improvisation within the genre of New Orleans jazz, Bechet was such a dominant player that trumpeters found it very difficult to play with him. Bechet wanted to play lead and it was up to the other horns to stay out of his way.

Sidney Bechet studied clarinet in New Orleans with Lorenzo Tio, Big Eye Louis Nelson, and George Baquet and he developed so quickly that as a child he was playing with some of the top bands in the city. He even taught clarinet, and one of his students (Jimmie Noone) was actually two years older than him. In 1917, he traveled to Chicago, and in 1919 he joined Will Marion Cook's orchestra, touring Europe with Cook and receiving a remarkably perceptive review from Ernst Ansermet. While overseas he found a soprano sax in a store and from then on it was his main instrument. Back in the U.S., Bechet made his recording debut in 1923 with Clarence Williams and during the next two years he appeared on records backing blues singers, interacting with Louis Armstrong and playing some stunning solos. He was with Duke Ellington's early orchestra for a period and at one point hired a young Johnny Hodges for his own band. However, from 1925-1929 Bechet was overseas, traveling as far as Russia but getting in trouble (and spending jail time) in France before being deported.

Most of the 1930s were comparatively lean times for Bechet. He worked with Noble Sissle on and off and had a brilliant session with his New Orleans Feetwarmers in 1932 (featuring trumpeter Tommy Ladnier). But he also ran a tailor's shop which was more notable for its jam sessions than for any money it might make. However, in 1938 he had a hit recording of "Summertime," Hugues Panassie featured Bechet on some records and soon he was signed to Bluebird where he recorded quite a few classics during the next three years. Bechet worked regularly in New York, appeared on some of Eddie Condon's Town Hall concerts, and in 1945 he tried unsuccessfully to have a band with the veteran trumpeter Bunk Johnson (whose constant drinking killed the project). Jobs began to dry up about this time, and Bechet opened up what he hoped would be a music school. He only had one main pupil, but Bob Wilber became his protégé.

Sidney Bechet's fortunes changed drastically in 1949. He was invited to the Salle Pleyel Jazz Festival in Paris, caused a sensation, and decided to move permanently overseas. Within a couple years he was a major celebrity and a national hero in France, even though the general public in the U.S. never did know who he was. Bechet's last decade was filled with exciting concerts, many recordings, and infrequent visits back to the U.S. before his death from cancer. His colorful (if sometimes fanciful) memoirs Treat It Gentle and John Chilton's magnificent Bechet biography The Wizard of Jazz (which traces his life nearly week-by-week) are both highly recommended. Many of Sidney Bechet's recordings are currently available on CD. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me (Single)

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Track List: Pre-War Classic Sides

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Track List: Tresors

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Comments

Love the vibrato
Joy to hear
countyroads
Sidney's Summertime turns January into July.
herbertgolds t e i n 7 6
Every time my shuffle plays Sidney Bechet when I'm home doing some chores, I immediately stop what I'm doing and pay attention to his music; it's always gets through to me even when I'm in a funk, picks me up, and is always good to listen to.
si tu vois ma mere...great song.
nobhovde
Became friends with Sydney on the Riviera in early fifties, fished after his gigs with the Claude Luter orfchestra. His soprano was perfect at the time as he was happy and married to a Belgian lady. His last days were joyful as the French revered him (bon jour Monnsier Bechet - hard tee at the end of his name - rather than the correct shay - thinking of him as American), Nice memories, Nob H.
Oooooooo...o o !
nyarchitect
he is awesome! loved the opening piece to "Midnight in Paris" ..Si tu vois ma mere
Ladies and Gentleman Mr. Sidney Beeeechet! He is awesome, great stuff.
A true master. Tone, phrasing, and most importantly, heart AND soul.
gordonsteven s 4 9
That great vibrato was something, wasn't it?
If you're going to highlight the best and most important work of Bechet's career, don't you have to include his 1939 sessions with Jelly Roll Morton? Check them out if you're not already familiar - "Winin' Boy Blues," etc.
Never harsh, Bechet has the most melodic style and swings hard when it it time to swing. He shared Louis Armstong's advice. "Play the melody".
Bechet's playing is so damm cool, he is a jammer for sure.
Interesting personal history, loved in Europe
If you enjoy Sidney Bechet, check out Dr. Michael White and his Original Liberty Jazz Band fron New Orleans
paulkriet2
I heard him play at Jazz Ltd in Chicago where he carried Bill Reinhart whose wife ran the club. Great stuff
It's always great to hear Bechet and his "licorice stick". I saw him perform numerous times at clubs on the East Coast. Those were the days of great music and great musicians.

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