12 Previously unissued recordings by the master of the soprano saxophone
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Side 1, #1: Sidney Bechet (ss) James P. Johnson (p) New York; April 19, 1947
Side 1, #2; Side 2, #1: Wild Bill Davison (cnt) Jimmy Archey (tb) Sidney Bechet (ss) Albert Nicholas (cl) Joe Sullivan (p) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b) Baby Dodds (drs) New York?; July 12, 1947
Side 1, #3: Same personnel as above New York?; August 8, 1947
Side 1, #4 and 5: Same personnel as above except Edmond Hall (cl) replaces Nicholas; Ralph Sutton (p) replaces Sullivan New York; October 4, 1947
Side 1, #6; Side 2, #3 and 6: Muggsy Spanier(cnt) George Brunis (tb) Sidney Bechet (ss) Albert Nicholas (cl) James P. Johnson (p) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b) Baby Dodds (drs) New York?; March 24, 1947
On Side 2, #2: Same personnel as above New York?; March 1, 1947
Side 2, #4 and 5: Wild Bill Davison (cnt) George Brunis (tb) Sidney Bechet (ss) Albert Nicholas (cl) James P. Johnson (p) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b) Freddie Moore (drs) New York?; May 24, 1947
Wild Cat Blues (1:57) (Williams – Waller)
Sugar (4:20) (Pinkard – Mitchell)
Love for Sale (3:18) (Cole Porter)
St. Louis Blues (2:43) (W. C. Handy)
Sweet Lorraine (4:03) (Parish – Burwell)
Black and Blue (4:02) (Razaf – Brooks – Waller)
Dear Old Southland (3:47) (Creamer – Layton)
Charleston (3:46) (Mack – Johnson)
Sensation (3:12) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1:42) (Razaf – Brooks – Waller)
Blue Turning Grey Over You (3:24) (Razaf – Waller)
In 1919, shortly after the European appearance of Will Marion Cook’s “Southern Syncopated Orchestra,” Ernest Ansermet, famed conductor of L’Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, wrote: “There is in the orchestra an extraordinary clarinet virtuoso … I wish to set down the name of this artist of genius. As for myself, I shall never forget it – it is SIDNEY BECHET and … his way is perhaps the highway the whole world will swing along tomorrow.”
Thus Bechet became probably the first jazz musician to receive praise from, or even to be taken seriously by, a distinguished personality in the classical music field. And this was of course only the beginning. There followed forty colorful and eventful years and the growth of a major and international reputation before May 14, 1959, which was both his sixty-second birthday and the day on which Sidney Bechet passed away in his adopted home town of Paris, the capital of a country in which he had become a celebrated national figure.
Born in New Orleans, Bechet spent most of his life away from the Crescent City, but his contemporaries who remained there still remember him. For one, there is the venerable Peter Bocage, still active there as trumpet player, violinist and bandleader in 1961, at the age of seventy-eight, and who recalls that “he used to sneak off with his brother Leonard’s clarinet and he always wanted to sit in with us. But he was just a little kid then and we didn’t pay him much attention.” Clarinetist George Baquet, however, did pay attention. In 1905 he took eight-year-old Sidney under his wing, making him his protégé. Soon Bechet was sitting in with cornetist Freddie Keppard’s band, and in 1912 Bunk Johnson recommended him to the famous Eagle Band. Bechet migrated to Chicago. There he worked with pianist Tony Jackson, Keppard, and others until 1919, when he moved to New York and joined Will Marion Cook – which led to the first of his several trips to Europe.
It was in London, during that first tour, that Bechet first took up the soprano sax. The instrument fascinated him, and much have seemed even more suited to the expression of his jazz ideas than the clarinet, for over the years it gradually became his principal instrument – and one over which he exercised a mastery unequalled by any other jazz musician, past or present.
Returning to New York in ’21, he played and recorded with various groups (including the classic recordings with Clarence Williams’ Blue Five). He returned to Europe in the mid-‘20s, travelling as far as Moscow with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier and then, in 1928, joining Noble Sissle’s band in Paris. The association with Sissle lasted for ten years off and on, with Bechet leaving from time to time lead groups of his own. Once, in 1933-’34, at the depth of the Depression, he and Ladnier opened a tailor shop in Harlem. “It wasn’t a shop for making suits,” Bechet explained in his autobiography, just a pressing and repairing place and we called it the Southern Tailor Shop. Tommy, he used to help out by shining shoes … (And) we’d have our sessions right there in the back of the shop. That was a good time, it was real enjoyable.”
After 1938, having permanently left Siddle, Bechet began appearing around New York with groups of his won and recording with all-star pick-up bands. Hughes Panassie used him, in a band with Ladnier as leader, on four numbers in the celebrated series of recordings the French jazz critic arranged for in New York. Those records, received with tremendous enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic, actually marked the beginning of Bechet’s latter-day success. Much recording activity followed: with Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and several fine groups under his own leadership. Bechet’s reputation was now well-established. But more and more he came to feel that jazz in America had become big business.
In 1949, expressing himself as tired of back-breaking schedules, tension, and greedy managers and booking agents, he decided to return to the scene of his earliest triumphs. Except for a couple of brief visits to the United States, he spent the last decade of his life in France, becoming one of that country’s best-known, and most highly paid, entertainers.
The performances that make up this album are from Bechet’s appearances on a series of radio programs that originated in New York during 1947 – the “This Is Jazz” series created by critic Rudi Blesh. The personnel on these broadcasts was for the most part made up of a rotating group including some of the most notable names in traditional and Dixieland jazz, and Sidney was frequently among them. Here Bechet and his several famous associates playing exciting, swinging jazz that, although technically not up to modern recording standards, is certainly of a musical caliber high enough to over-ride any such consideration.
The varied repertoire of old standards and jazz classics serves as a reminder of Bechet’s great versatility, and of his ability to take almost any typr of tune (including at times some of the most banal) and turn it into a masterpiece of rich melodic flow and ideas. Jazz has traveled a long road since Ernest Ansermet wrote in praise of this “genius,” but the passing years seem only to underline the timelessness of the masterful style and deep beauty of Sidney Bechet’s music …
Bechet can also be heard on Riverside on –
In Memoriam: SIDNEY BECHET (RLP 138/39 – a two-LP set)
All recordings taken from “This Is Jazz” broadcasts. The surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of the recording equipment on which the original acetate aircheck’s were made; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
LP edited and notes written by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Mastered, 1961, by JACK MATTHEWS (Components, Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.