Sidney Bechet

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Sidney Bechet
Bechet.gif
Bechet in 1922
Background information
Born(1897-05-14)May 14, 1897
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
DiedMay 14, 1959(1959-05-14) (aged 62)
Garches, France
Genres Jazz, Dixieland
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
InstrumentsClarinet, soprano saxophone
Years active1908–1957
Associated acts Louis Armstrong, Tommy Ladnier

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

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Louis Armstrong American jazz trumpeter, composer and singer

Louis Daniel Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo, Satch, and Pops, was an American trumpeter, composer, vocalist and occasional actor who was one of the most influential figures in jazz. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in the history of jazz. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Contents

Biography

Bechet's childhood home in the 7th Ward of New Orleans BechetMaraisExterior1.JPG
Bechet's childhood home in the 7th Ward of New Orleans

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. At the age of six, he started playing 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. [2]

Lorenzo Tio Jr. (1893–1933) was a master clarinetist from New Orleans, as were his father Lorenzo Tio Sr. (1867–1908) and uncle Louis "Papa" Tio (1862–1922). Their method of playing the instrument was seminal in the development of the jazz solo.

Louis Nelson Delisle American musician

"Big Eye" Louis Nelson Delisle was an early twentieth-century Dixieland jazz clarinetist in New Orleans, Louisiana. He also played double bass, banjo, and accordion.

George Francis Baquet was an American jazz clarinetist, known for his contributions to early jazz in New Orleans.

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. [2] 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 what was common among 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.

In Western 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 instrument, without changes or omissions. The word is borrowed from Italian ; the spelling obligato is not acceptable in British English, but it is often used as an alternative spelling in the US. The word can stand on its own, in English, as a noun, or appear as a modifier in a noun phrase.

Freddie Keppard was an early jazz cornetist who once held the title of "King" in the New Orleans jazz scene. This title was previously held by Buddy Bolden and succeeded by Joe Oliver.

The Olympia Orchestra was an American jazz dance band active in New Orleans from around 1906 into the late 1910s.

In 1919, Ernest Ansermet, a Swiss conductor of classical music, wrote a tribute to Bechet, one of the earliest (if not the first) to a jazz musician from the field of classical music, linking Bechet's music with that of Bach. [3]

Ernest Ansermet Swiss conductor

Ernest Alexandre Ansermet was a Swiss conductor.

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 [4] in Paris on October 2. He toured Europe with various bands, reaching as far as Russia in mid-1926. In 1928, he led his small band at Chez Bricktop in Montmartre, Paris.

Josephine Baker American-born French dancer, singer, and actress

Josephine Baker was an American-born French entertainer, activist, and French Resistance agent. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France. During her early career she was renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation in Paris. Her costume, consisting of only a girdle of artificial bananas, became her most iconic image and a symbol of the Jazz Age and the 1920s.

Théâtre des Champs-Élysées theatre and concert venue at 15 avenue Montaigne in Paris, france

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is a theatre at 15 avenue Montaigne in Paris. The theater is named not after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but rather after the neighborhood in which it is situated.

Montmartre hill in the north of Paris, France

Montmartre is a large hill in Paris's 18th arrondissement. It is 130 m (430 ft) high and gives its name to the surrounding district, part of the Right Bank in the northern section of the city. The historic district established by the City of Paris in 1995 is bordered by rue Caulaincourt and rue Custine on the north, rue de Clignancourt on the east, and boulevard de Clichy and boulevard de Rochechouart to the south, containing 60 ha. Montmartre is primarily known for its artistic history, the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur on its summit, and as a nightclub district. The other church on the hill, Saint Pierre de Montmartre, built in 1147, was the church of the prestigious Montmartre Abbey. On August 15, 1534, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier and five other companions bound themselves by vows in the Martyrium of Saint Denis, 11 rue Yvonne Le Tac, the first step in the creation of the Jesuits.

He was imprisoned in Paris for eleven months. [5] [6] 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." [7] 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.

Noble Sissle African-American jazz musician

Noble Lee Sissle was an African-American jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer, and playwright, best known for the Broadway musical Shuffle Along (1921), and its hit song "I'm Just Wild About Harry".

Bechet in New York, 1947 Sidney Bechet, Freddie Moore, Lloyd Phillips (Gottlieb 00521).jpg
Bechet in New York, 1947

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 got to know trumpeter Roy Eldridge. [8]

In 1938 "Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)", commonly known as "Hold Tight", was composed by Bechet's guitarist Leonard Ware and two session singers with claimed contributions from Bechet himself. The song became known for its suggestive lyrics and then for a series of lawsuits over songwriter royalties.

In 1939, Bechet and the pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith led a group that recorded several early versions of what was later called Latin jazz, adapting traditional méringue, rhumba and Haitian songs to the jazz idiom. On July 28, 1940, Bechet made a guest appearance on the NBC Radio show The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street , playing two of his showpieces ("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 at Victor, Bechet recorded a version of the pop song "The Sheik of Araby", playing six different instruments: clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, and drums. A hitherto unissued master of this recording was included in the 1965 LP Bechet of New Orleans, issued by RCA Victor as LPV-510. In the liner notes, George Hoeffer quoted Bechet:

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 the Chicago jazz pianist and vibraphonist Max Miller, private recordings that are part of Miller’s archive and have never been released. These concerts and recordings are described in John Chilton's biography Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. [9]

With jobs in music difficult to find, he opened a tailor shop with Ladnier. They were visited by musicians and played in the back of the shop. In the 1940s, Bechet played in several bands, but his financial situation did not improve until the end of that decade. By the end of the 1940s, Bechet had tired of struggling to make music in the United States. His contract with Jazz Limited, a Chicago-based record label, was limiting the events at which he could perform (for instance, the label would not permit him to perform at the 1948 Festival of Europe in Nice). He believed that the jazz scene in the United States had little left to offer him and was getting stale. [8] In 1950 he moved to France, after his performance as a soloist at the Paris Jazz Fair caused a surge in his popularity in that country, where he easily found well-paid work. In 1951, he married Elisabeth Ziegler in Antibes.

In 1953, he signed a recording contract with Disques Vogue that lasted for the rest of his life. [8] He recorded many hit tunes, including "Les Oignons", "Promenade aux Champs-Elysees", and the international hit "Petite Fleur". He also composed a classical ballet score in the late Romantic style of Tchaikovsky called La Nuit est sorcière ("The Night Is a Witch"). Some existentialists in France took to calling him le dieu ("the god"). [10]

Shortly before his death, Bechet dictated his autobiography, Treat It Gentle, to Al Rose, a record producer and radio host. He had worked with Rose several times in concert promotions and had a fractious relationship with him. Bechet's view of himself in his autobiography was starkly different from the one Rose knew. "The kindly old gentleman in his book was filled with charity and compassion. The one I knew was self-centered, cold, and capable of the most atrocious cruelty, especially toward women." [11]

Bechet died in Garches, near Paris, of lung cancer on May 14, 1959, his 62nd birthday, and is buried in a local cemetery. [12]

Bechet played a jazz musician in three films, Serie Noire, [13] L'Inspecteur connait la musique and, Quelle équipe! [14]

His playing style was intense and passionate and had a wide vibrato. He was also known to be proficient at playing several instruments and a master of improvisation (both individual and collective). Bechet liked to have his sound dominate in a performance, and trumpeters found it difficult to play alongside him. [8] [1]

Awards

Discography

Singles

Further reading

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References

  1. 1 2 Yanow, Scott. "Sidney Bechet". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
  2. 1 2 Porter, Lewis; Ullman, Michael (1988). "Sidney Bechet and His Long Song". The Black Perspective in Music: 135–150. doi:10.2307/1214805. JSTOR   1214805.
  3. Porter, Lewis; Ullman, Michael (1988). "Sidney Bechet and His Long Song". The Black Perspective in Music. 16 (2): 135–150. JSTOR   1214805.
  4. Shack, William A. (2001). Harlem in Montmartre. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN   0-520-22537-6.
  5. Cohassey, John. "Sidney Bechet". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  6. Palmer, Robert (1976). Sidney Bechet: Master Musician (Media notes). Bluebird Records.
  7. "The struggle in Paris". My Life - Sidney Bechet. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Horricks, Raymond (1991). Profiles in Jazz. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction. pp. 1–10.
  9. Chilton, John (1987). Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. Macmillan. ISBN   0333443861.
  10. Filan, Kenaz (2011). "Appendix 2". The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books. ISBN   978-1594774355.
  11. Rose, Al (1987). I Remember Jazz: Six Decades Among the Great Jazzmen. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 60–65. ISBN   0-8071-2571-7.
  12. "Sidney Joseph Bechet". Findagrave.com.
  13. "Série noire". Allocine.fr. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  14. "Ah, quelle équipe!". Allocine.com. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  15. "Radio Swiss Jazz - Music database" . Retrieved 2018-04-01.