Creole Reeds: SIDNEY BECHET and ALBERT NICHOLAS
Selections by two present-day masters of the classic New Orleans style
Sidney Bechet, soprano sax, featured with –
Bob Wilber and His Jazz Band (Side, #1, 2, 5 and 6): Henry Goodwin (tp) Jimmy Archey (tb) Bob Wilber (cl, ss) Dick Wellstood (p) Pops Foster (b) Tommy Benford (drs) NYC; June 9, 1949
The All-Star Stompers (Side 1, #3 and 4): Bill Davison (cnt) Jimmy Archey (tb) Albert Nicholas (cl) Ralph Sutton (p) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b) Baby Dodds (drs) NYC; July 26, 1947
Albert Nicholas, clarinet, featured with –
Baby Dodds Trio (Side 2, #1, 5 and 6): Don Ewell (p) Baby Dodds (drs) NYC; January 6, 1946
Albert Nicholas and His Creole Serenaders (Side 2, 2-4): James P. Johnson (p) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b)
NYC; June, 1947
1. I’m Through Goodbye (2:43) (Bechet)
2. Waste No Tears (3:02) (Bechet)
3. Dardanella (2:39) (Fisher – Nernard – Black)
4. I Never Knew (3:26) (Pitts – Egan – Marsh – Whiteman)
5. The Broken Windmill (3:13) (Bechet)
6. Without a Home (3:09) (Bechet)
1. Buddy Bolden’s Blues (3:08) (traditional)
2. No Pas Lemme Ca (2:42) (traditional)
3. Les Ognons (2:58) (traditional)
4. Salee Dame (3:18) (traditional)
5. Wolverine Blues (2:43) (Spikes – Morton)
6. Albert’s Blues (3:04) (Nicholas)
The music that developed in New Orleans in the very early years of this century, and that has since hone on to demonstrate its time – and geography-defying appeal, was a fusion of many elements and traditions. One of the most important of these would seem to have had its roots in the strong interest in “legitimate” music among the Creole families of that city. New Orleans jazz bands, more than a few of the very best were clarinetists.
Whether it was by coincidence, or because of some emphasis on training children on this instrument, is difficult to determine. But the fact is that they were there, readily identifiable by the proponderance of French derived names among the outstanding early reed men – Bechet and Nicholas being two notable names among many. Such men permanently placed the stamp of a French reed technique on the New Orleans clarinet style: liquid, fluid, agile, soaring; characterized by grace and purity of tone.
While Sidney Bechet has for many years concentrated on the soprano sax (making this of necessity an album of Creole “reeds” rather than “clarinets”), there is of course no question but that he belongs fully to this great tradition and is, in fact, one of its greatest exponents. Albert Nicholas, although far less renowned than Bechet, is also among the most accomplished of New Orleans trained performers, and fully deserving of sharing honors here.
SIDNEY BECHET was born in 1897, and began his professional career in his early ‘teens. By 1912 he had joined the Eagle Band, reputedly brought into the group by Bunk Johnson. He played with King Oliver and Kid Ory in New Orleans, with Freddie Keppard and Tony Jackson in Chicago. By 1919 he was on his first European tour, as part of Will Marion Cook’s concert orchestra. Between 1923 and 1925 he made his celebrated recordings with Clarence Williams’ Blues Five and the Red Onion Jazz Babies (some of which are reissued on RLP 12-101: Young Louis Armstrong). He moved frequently between Europe and the United States from the late ‘20s through the ‘30s, often with Noble Sissle’s band. Always an uncompromising, self-driving musician, he finally began to come into his own as a star during the early 1940s, when he recorded prolifically. Shortly after these 1949 recordings, he shifted his base of operations almost permanently to France, where he has become an immensely popular entertainer.
Although brought up in the New Orleans ensemble-jazz tradition, Bechet has long been most effective as a virtuoso performer, standing out from and over a band. The full-bodied soprano sax, which almost insists on being a lead born, has increasingly been Bechet’s preferred instrument ever since he first began to play it on his very first visit to Europe. On four selections here, he is backed by a band led by Bob Wilber, who was Bechet’s protege at the time, and hence most capable of grasping Sidney’s aims and concepts and of providing fully sympathetic support for Bechet’s treatment of his own compositions. The remaining two numbers, on the other hand, demonstrate that he can also work quite brilliantly within the framework set by a band, particularly when the group is made up of first-class veteran jazzmen.
ALBERT NICHOLAS was also born in New Orleans, in 1900. He, too, played with such men as Ory and Oliver while still in his ‘teens, and there is an early photograph that shows him on the bandstand at Tom Anderson’s famous café in Storyville, along with cornetist Manuel Perez, Luis Russell and Paul Barbarin. In Chicago, Nick was part of the band that King Oliver put together after the break-up of the Original Creole Band; through much of the ‘30s he played with Luis Russell’s band, and in the ‘40s worked and recorded with several groups, mostly in New York. Since 1953, he too has turned to France, and at this writing (1956) seems well-established there.
Often playing within big bands, away from the mainstream of activity during a good part of the ‘20s (he was in China, India and Egypt 1926-28), and out of jazz during World War II, Nicholas has rarely had full opportunity to display his substantial talents out in the open. But in three numbers here, he is able to use a trio format to great advantage. At least one of these selections puts him (and also the notable traditional-style pianist, Don Ewell) to severe test: for Wolverine was of course originally a trio recording by Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jelly Roll Morton. Ewell and Nicholas (who is clearly himself and not Johnny Dodds here) come through it nobly. The other three items, versions of old Creole songs, find Nick romping buoyantly along with the remarkable rhythm section of Pops Foster, Danny Barker (both of New Orleans), and the most adaptable James P. Johnson.
There is certainly a vast range of content here, from Bechet se-pieces to light songs by Nicholas. But all is bound together by the great, still-vital classic-jazz tradition that both men – one flamboyant, the other comparatively subdued – carry on with rare skill and beauty.
(All of these selections were originally issued on the Circle label, with the two All-Star Stompers numbers taken from “This Is Jazz” network broadcasts.)
Bechet can also be heard on the following Riverside album (which includes two selections from this LP, and six others):
SIDNEY BECHET (RLP 2516) (10-inch LP)
Nicholas is prominently featured on two albums largely derived from “This Is Jazz” broadcasts:
WIL BILL DAVISON: Sweet and Hot (RLP12-211) (12-inch LP)
WILD BILL DAVISON (RLP 2514) (10-inch LP)
Notable performances by other traditional-style clarinetists are included on such LPs as:
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP12-104) (12-inch LP)
GEORGE LEWIS Jazz Band and Quartet – (RLP12-207) (12-inch LP); RLPs 2507, 2512) (10-inch LPs)
RAGTIME –TONY PARENTI’s Ragtime Band (RLP12-205) (12-inch LP)
Bob Helm, in San Francisco Style: LU WATTERS’ Yerba Buena Jazz Bad and BOB HELM’s Riverside Roustabouts
(RLP12-213) (12-inch LP)
LP produced by Bill Grauer.
Notes by Peter Drew.
Cover by Gene Gogerty.
Re-mastered 1956, by Reeves Sound Studios. Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.