Sidney Bechet

Sidney Joseph Bechet[1] (May 14, 1897 – May 14, 1959) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. He was one of the first important soloists in jazz, and first recorded several months before trumpeter Louis Armstrong.[2] His erratic temperament hampered his career, and not until the late 1940s did he earn wide acclaim.

Bechet was born in New Orleans in 1897 to a middle-class Creole of color family. His older brother, Leonard Victor Bechet, was a full-time dentist and a part-time trombonist and bandleader. Bechet learned several musical instruments that were kept around the house, mostly by teaching himself; he decided to specialize in the clarinet (which he played almost exclusively until about 1919). At the age of six, he started to perform with his brother's band at a family birthday party, debuting his talents to acclaim. Later in his youth, Bechet studied with Lorenzo Tio, "Big Eye" Louis Nelson Delisle, and George Baquet.[3]

Bechet played in many New Orleans ensembles using the improvisational techniques of the time (obbligatos with scales and arpeggios and varying the melody). He performed in parades with Freddie Keppard's brass band, the Olympia Orchestra, and in John Robichaux's dance orchestra. From 1911 to 1912, he performed with Bunk Johnson in the Eagle Band of New Orleans and in 1913–14 with King Oliver in the Olympia Band. From 1914 to 1917 he was touring and traveling, going as far north as Chicago and frequently performing with Freddie Keppard. In the spring of 1919, he traveled to New York City where he joined Will Marion Cook's Syncopated Orchestra. Soon after, the orchestra traveled to Europe; almost immediately upon arrival, they performed at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in London. The group was warmly received, and Bechet was especially popular.[3] While in London, he discovered the straight soprano saxophone and developed a style unlike his clarinet tone. His saxophone sound could be described as emotional, reckless, and large. He often used a broad vibrato, similar to some New Orleans clarinetists at the time. On July 30, 1923, he began recording. The session was led by Clarence Williams, a pianist and songwriter, better known at that time for his music publishing and record producing. Bechet recorded "Wild Cat Blues" and "Kansas City Man Blues". "Wild Cat Blues" is in a ragtime style with four 16-bar themes, and "Kansas City Man Blues" is a 12-bar blues.

On September 15, 1925, Bechet and other members of the Revue Nègre, including Josephine Baker, sailed to Europe, arriving at Cherbourg, France, on September 22. The revue opened at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées[6] in Paris on October 2. He toured Europe with multiple bands, reaching as far as Russia in mid-1926. In 1928, he led his small band at Chez Bricktop in Montmartre, Paris.

He was imprisoned in Paris for eleven months.[7][8] In his autobiography, he wrote that he accidentally shot a woman when he was trying to shoot a musician who had insulted him. He had challenged the man to duel and said, "Sidney Bechet never plays the wrong chord."[9] After his release, he was deported to New York, arriving soon after the stock market crash of 1929. He joined Noble Sissle's orchestra, which toured in Germany and Russia.

In 1932, Bechet returned to New York City to lead a band with Tommy Ladnier. The band, consisting of six members, performed at the Savoy Ballroom. He went on to play with Lorenzo Tio and also came to know trumpeter Roy Eldridge.