Sidney Bechet: St. Louis Blues

14 May

Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet, with Lionel Hampton

Remembering the great clarinetist/saxophonist Sidney Bechet on the day of his death (and his birth) in 1959.

Bechet is often credited with being the first great jazz soloist; today he has long been surpassed in fame and recognition by artists who need only one name or a nickname.

Bechet, Creole in heritage, was born in the same city — New Orleans (but three years earlier, in 1897) — as Louis Armstrong, who first leaped past him in fame and recognition.  Both went to Chicago but Bechet continued traveling, finding far more comfort, appreciation and applause in Europe.

Bechet was so popular in Europe it’s said the character of Pablo in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf was based on him.

Bechet’s temper was as shrill as a note played badly — he was deported from both England and France in the 1920s. Surprisingly enough, both incidents  involved women.

A more sedate Bechet returned to France in 1950, where he married and lived the rest of his days.

New York Times critic Robert Palmer:  “By combining the ‘cry’ of the blues players and the finesse of the Creoles into his ‘own way,’ Sidney Bechet created a style which moved the emotions even as it dazzled the mind.”

Duke Ellington: “Bechet to me was the very epitome of jazz . . . everything he played in his whole life was completely original. I honestly think he was the most unique man to ever be in this music.”

Bechet was 62 when he died on his birthday in Paris.


More on Sidney Bechet: Sidney Bechet, The Wizard of Jazz, by John Chilton


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