Sidney Bechet

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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 cornetist and trumpeter Louis Armstrong to the recording studio by several months[1] 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 mercurial temperament hampered his career, however, and not until the late 1940s did he earn wide acclaim.

Contents

Biography

Bechet (pronounced BAH-shay by the family, most commonly pronounced buh-SHAY) was born in New Orleans to a wealthy Creole family. "Discovered" at the age of six, Sidney Bechet quickly learned the clarinet by picking up his brother's horn and teaching himself. At a family birthday party, Bechet debuted his newly acquired talents. Later in his youth, Bechet studied with such renowned Creole clarinetists as Lorenzo Tio, "Big Eye" Louis Nelson, and George Baquet. Soon after, Bechet would be found playing in many New Orleans ensembles, improvising with what was "acceptable" for jazz at that time (obbligatos, with scales and arpeggios). These ensembles included parade work with Henry Allen's celebrated Brass Band, the Olympia Orchestra, and John Robichaux's "genteel" dance orchestra. In 1911-1912, he performed with Bunk Johnson in the Eagle Band of New Orleans, and in 1913-1914, with King Oliver in the Olympia Band.[2]

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. In the spring of 1919, he traveled to New York, where he joined Will Marion Cook's Syncopated Orchestra. Soon after, the orchestra journeyed to Europe where, almost immediately upon arrival, they performed at the Royal Philharmonic Hall. The group was warmly received, and Bechet was especially popular, attracting attention near and far.[2]

Bechet was jailed [3] in Paris, France, when a female[4] 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' 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;[3] critics[citation needed] assert, however, that Bechet was essentially ambushed by a rival musician.

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