Sidney Bechet
Overview
 
Sidney Bechet was an American jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 saxophonist
Saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

, clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

ist, and composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

.

He was one of the first important soloists in jazz (beating cornet
Cornet
The cornet is a brass instrument very similar to the trumpet, distinguished by its conical bore, compact shape, and mellower tone quality. The most common cornet is a transposing instrument in B. It is not related to the renaissance and early baroque cornett or cornetto.-History:The cornet was...

ist and trumpeter Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong , nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana....

 to the recording studio by several months and later playing duets with Armstrong), and was perhaps the first notable jazz saxophonist. Forceful delivery, well-constructed improvisations, and a distinctive, wide vibrato characterized Bechet's playing.

Bechet's erratic temperament hampered his career, however, and not until the late 1940s did he earn wide acclaim.
Bechet was born in New Orleans to a middle-class Creole of Color
Creoles of color
The Creoles of Color are a historic ethnic group of Louisiana, especially the city of New Orleans.-History:During Louisiana’s colonial period, Creole referred to people born in Louisiana with ancestors from elsewhere; i.e., all natives other than Native Americans. They used the term to separate...

 family.
Encyclopedia
Sidney Bechet was an American jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 saxophonist
Saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

, clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

ist, and composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

.

He was one of the first important soloists in jazz (beating cornet
Cornet
The cornet is a brass instrument very similar to the trumpet, distinguished by its conical bore, compact shape, and mellower tone quality. The most common cornet is a transposing instrument in B. It is not related to the renaissance and early baroque cornett or cornetto.-History:The cornet was...

ist and trumpeter Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong , nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana....

 to the recording studio by several months and later playing duets with Armstrong), and was perhaps the first notable jazz saxophonist. Forceful delivery, well-constructed improvisations, and a distinctive, wide vibrato characterized Bechet's playing.

Bechet's erratic temperament hampered his career, however, and not until the late 1940s did he earn wide acclaim.

Biography

Bechet was born in New Orleans to a middle-class Creole of Color
Creoles of color
The Creoles of Color are a historic ethnic group of Louisiana, especially the city of New Orleans.-History:During Louisiana’s colonial period, Creole referred to people born in Louisiana with ancestors from elsewhere; i.e., all natives other than Native Americans. They used the term to separate...

 family. Sidney's older brother Leonard Bechet (1877-1952) was a part time trombonist and bandleader. Sidney Bechet quickly learned to play several musical instruments kept around the house, mostly by teaching himself; he soon decided to focus on clarinet. At age six, Sidney started playing along with his brother's band at a family birthday party, debuting his talents to aclaim. Later in his youth, Bechet studied with such renowned Creole clarinetists as Lorenzo Tio
Lorenzo Tio
Lorenzo Tio Jr. was a master clarinetist from New Orleans, as were his father Lorenzo Tio Sr. and uncle Louis "Papa" Tio...

, "Big Eye" Louis Nelson Delisle, and George Baquet
George Baquet
George Baquet was an American jazz clarinetist, known for his contributions to early jazz in New Orleans.His father, Theogene Baquet, was also a clarinetist, as were his brothers, Achille and Harold...

. Soon after, Bechet would be found playing in many New Orleans ensembles, improvising with what was "acceptable" for jazz at that time (obbligato
Obbligato
In classical music obbligato usually describes a musical line that is in some way indispensable in performance. Its opposite is the marking ad libitum. It can also be used, more specifically, to indicate that a passage of music was to be played exactly as written, or only by the specified...

s, with scales and arpeggios, and "variating" the melody). These ensembles included parade work with Henry Allen's celebrated Brass Band, the Olympia Orchestra
Olympia Orchestra
The Olympia Orchestra was an American jazz dance band active in New Orleans from around 1906 into the late 1910s.The Olympia Orchestra was founded by Freddie Keppard, and typically held between five and seven members. The instrumentation usually consisted of cornet, trombone, clarinet, guitar or...

, and John Robichaux's "genteel" dance orchestra. In 1911-1912, he performed with Bunk Johnson
Bunk Johnson
Willie Gary "Bunk" Johnson was a prominent early New Orleans jazz trumpet player in the early years of the 20th century who enjoyed a revived career in the 1940s....

 in the Eagle Band of New Orleans, and in 1913-1914, with King Oliver in the Olympia Band.

Although Bechet spent his childhood and adolescence in New Orleans, from 1914-1917 he was touring and traveling, going as far north as Chicago, and frequently teaming up with another famous Creole musician, Freddie Keppard
Freddie Keppard
Freddie Keppard was an early jazz cornetist.Keppard was born in the Creole of Color community of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. His older brother Louis Keppard was also a professional musician. Freddie played violin, mandolin, and accordion before switching to cornet...

. In the spring of 1919, he traveled to New York, where he joined Will Marion Cook
Will Marion Cook
William Mercer Cook , better known as Will Marion Cook, was an African American composer and violinist from the United States. Cook was a student of Antonín Dvořák and performed for King George V among others...

's Syncopated Orchestra. Soon after, the orchestra journeyed to Europe where, almost immediately upon arrival, they performed at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in London. The group was warmly received, and Bechet was especially popular, attracting attention near and far.

While in London, Bechet discovered the straight soprano saxophone
Soprano saxophone
The soprano saxophone is a variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument, invented in 1840. The soprano is the third smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists of the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass and tubax.A transposing instrument pitched in...

, and quickly developed a style quite unlike his warm, reedy clarinet tone. His saxophone sound could be described as "emotional", "reckless", and "large". He would often use a very broad vibrato, similar to what was common for some New Orleans clarinetists at the time.

After being found guilty of assaulting a woman, Bechet was imprisoned in London from September 13 to 26, 1922. He was subsequently deported back to the USA, leaving Southampton on November 3 and arriving back in New York on November 13, 1922.

On July 30, 1923, he began recording some of his earliest surviving studio work. The session was led by Clarence Williams
Clarence Williams
Clarence Williams was an American jazz pianist, composer, promoter, vocalist, theatrical producer, and publisher.-Biography:...

, a pianist and songwriter, better known at that time for his music publishing and record producing. Bechet recorded the "Wild Cat Blues" and "Kansas City Man Blues". "Wild Cat Blues" is in a multi-thematic ragtime tradition, with four themes, at sixteen bars each, and "Kansas City Man Blues" is a genuine 12-bar blues. Bechet interpreted and played each uniquely and with outstanding creativity and innovation for the time.

On September 15, 1925, Bechet and other members of the Revue Negre, including Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was an American dancer, singer, and actress who found fame in her adopted homeland of France. She was given such nicknames as the "Bronze Venus", the "Black Pearl", and the "Créole Goddess"....

, sailed to Europe, arriving at Cherbourg, France on September 22. The revue opened at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is a theatre at 15 avenue Montaigne. Despite its name, the theatre is not on the Champs-Élysées but nearby in another part of the 8th arrondissement of Paris....

, Paris on October 2. He then toured Europe with various bands, reaching as far as Russia in mid-1926. In 1928, he led his own small band at the famous Bricktop's Club in Montmartre, Paris.

Bechet was jailed in Paris, France, when a female passer-by was wounded during a shoot-out. After serving jail time, Bechet was deported. The most common version of the story, as related in Ken Burns
Ken Burns
Kenneth Lauren "Ken" Burns is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs...

' jazz documentary, reports that the initial shoot-out started when another musician/producer told Bechet that he was playing the wrong chord. Bechet challenged the man to a duel; critics assert, however, that Bechet was essentially ambushed by a rival musician.

After his release, Bechet relocated back to New York. Having arrived right after the stock market crash, Bechet joined up with Noble Sissle’s orchestra and traveled around Berlin and Russia. In 1932 he returned to New York City to lead a band with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. The band performed at The Savoy, and consisted of six members. He went on to play with Lorenzo Tia, and also got to know Roy Eldridge, another trumpeter.

Over time it became progressively more difficult for Bechet to find jobs until eventually he started a tailor shop with Ladnier. During this time they had visits from various musicians, and played in the back of their shop. Throughout the 1940s Bechet played in several bands, but his financial situation did not change until the end of that decade.

By the end of the 1940s Bechet was getting tired of playing in the United States. His contract with Jazz Limited, a Chicago based record label, was limiting the events he could perform at, such as the 1948 ‘Festival of Europe’ in Nice. He also believed that jazz scene in the US had little left to offer him and was getting stale.

Bechet relocated to France in 1950 after performing as a soloist at the Paris Jazz Fair. His performance at the fair resulted in a surge in his popularity in France. Since then, Bechet had little problem finding well paid work in France. In 1953, he signed a recording contract with French Vogue, which lasted for the rest of his life. He recorded many hit tunes, including "Les Oignons," "Promenade aux Champ Elysees," and the international hit, "Petite Fleur
Petite Fleur
Petite Fleur is a successful instrumental written by Sidney Bechet and recorded in January 1952 with the Sidney Bechet All Stars.In 1959 it was a big hit for Chris Barber's Jazz Band...

." He also composed a classical ballet score in the late Romantic style of Tchaikovsky, called "La Nuit est sorciere" ("The Night Is a Witch"). He married Elisabeth Ziegler in Antibes, France in 1951. Existentialists
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

 in France called him "le dieu".

Shortly before his death in Paris, Sidney dictated his poetic autobiography, Treat It Gentle. He died from lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

 on his
sixty-second birthday.

Career highlights

Bechet successfully composed in jazz, pop-tune, and extended concert work forms. He knew how to read music, but chose not to due to his highly developed inner ear; he developed his own fingering system and he never played section parts in a big band or swing-style combo. His recordings often have been reissued.

Some of the highlights of his career include 1923 sides with Louis Armstrong in "Clarence Williams Blue Five"; the 1932, 1940, 1941 "New Orleans Feetwarmers" sides; a 1938 "Tommy Ladnier Orchestra" session "Weary Blues", "Really the Blues"); a hit 1938 recording of "Summertime
Summertime (song)
"Summertime" is an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP....

"; and various versions of his own composition, "Petite Fleur
Petite Fleur
Petite Fleur is a successful instrumental written by Sidney Bechet and recorded in January 1952 with the Sidney Bechet All Stars.In 1959 it was a big hit for Chris Barber's Jazz Band...

".

In 1939, Bechet co-led a group with pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith that recorded several early versions of what was later called "Latin Jazz
Latin jazz
Latin jazz is the general term given to jazz with Latin American rhythms.The three main categories of Latin Jazz are Brazilian, Cuban and Puerto Rican:# Brazilian Latin Jazz includes bossa nova...

", adapting traditional Meringue
Meringue
Meringue is a type of dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar, occasionally some recipes may call for adding an acid such as cream of tartar or a small amount of vinegar and a binding agent such as cornstarch found in icing sugar which may be added in addition to the corn starch which...

, Rhumba and Haiti
Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

an songs to the jazz idiom.
On July 28, 1940, Sidney Bechet made a guest appearance on NBC Radio's The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street
The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street
The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street was a musical variety radio program which began on the Blue Network in 1940. The magazine Radio Life described it as "one of radio's strangest offsprings... a wacky, strictly hep tongue-in-cheek burlesque of opera and symphony."It was a weekly...

show, playing two of his show-pieces ("Shake It and Break It" and "St. Louis Blues") with Henry Levine's dixieland band. Levine invited Bechet into the RCA Victor recording studio (on 24th Street in New York City), where Bechet lent his soprano sax to Levine's traditional arrangement of "Muskrat Ramble." On April 18, 1941, as an early experiment in overdubbing
Overdubbing
Overdubbing is a technique used by recording studios to add a supplementary recorded sound to a previously recorded performance....

 at Victor, Bechet recorded a version of the pop song "The Sheik of Araby", playing six different instruments: clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

, soprano saxophone
Soprano saxophone
The soprano saxophone is a variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument, invented in 1840. The soprano is the third smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists of the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass and tubax.A transposing instrument pitched in...

, tenor saxophone
Tenor saxophone
The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor, with the alto, are the two most common types of saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B, and written as a transposing instrument in the treble...

, piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, bass
Double bass
The double bass, also called the string bass, upright bass, standup bass or contrabass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra, with strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2...

, and drums
Drum kit
A drum kit is a collection of drums, cymbals and often other percussion instruments, such as cowbells, wood blocks, triangles, chimes, or tambourines, arranged for convenient playing by a single person ....

. A theretofore unissued master of this recording was included in the 1965 LP Bechet of New Orleans, issued by RCA Victor as LPV-510. On the liner notes, George Hoeffer quotes Sidney as follows: "I started by playing The Sheik on piano, and played the drums while listening to the piano. I meant to play all the rhythm instruments, but got all mixed up and grabbed my soprano, then the bass, then the tenor saxophone, and finally finished up with the clarinet."

In 1944, 1946, and 1953 he recorded and performed in concert with Chicago Jazz Pianist and Vibraphonist Max Miller, private recordings which are part of the Max Miller archive and have never been released. These concerts and recordings are covered completely in John Chilton's great book on Bechet.

Bechet was an important influence on alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges
Johnny Hodges
John Cornelius "Johnny" Hodges was an American alto saxophonist, best known for his solo work with Duke Ellington's big band. He played lead alto in the saxophone section for many years, except the period between 1932–1946 when Otto Hardwick generally played first chair...

, who studied with Bechet as a teenager.

In 1968, Bechet was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame
Down Beat
Down Beat is an American magazine devoted to "jazz, blues and beyond" to indicate its expansion beyond the jazz realm which it covered exclusively in previous years. The publication was established in 1934 in Chicago, Illinois...

.

The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

music writer Robert Palmer wrote of Bechet that, "by combining the 'cry' of the blues players and the finesse of the Creoles into his 'own way,' Sidney Bechet created a style which moved the emotions even as it dazzled the mind."

Tributes

In 1919, Swiss concert conductor, Ernst Ansermet, wrote one of the earliest (if not the first) tributes to a jazz musician from

Music

Sidney Bechet's primary instruments were the clarinet and the soprano sax. His playing style is intense and passionate, and had a wide vibrato. He was also known to be very proficient with his instruments and a master at improvisation (both individual and collective). Bechet liked to have his sound dominate in a performance, and trumpeters found it very difficult to play alongside him.

Singles

  • "Texas Moaner Blues" (recorded with Louis Armstrong) - 1924

  • "Cake Walkin' Babies from Home" (with Red Onion Jazz Babies
    Red Onion Jazz Babies
    The Red Onion Jazz Babies was an early supergroup of the Jazz Age. Among its members were Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Lil Hardin and others in the early 1920s. As it comprised some of the most influential soloists and performers of the era, the group was significant in highlighting the early...

    ) - 1925

  • "Blues In Thirds" - 1940

  • "Dear Old Southland" - 1940

  • "Egyptian Fantasy" -1941

  • "Muskrat Ramble" - 1944

  • "Blue Horizon" - 1944

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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