Sidney Bechet, Chicago, c. 1916.
Courtesy of the Frank Driggs Collection.
Born May 14, 1897, in New Orleans, LA
Died May 14, 1959, in Paris, France
“There’s this mood about the music, a kind of need to be moving,” Sidney Bechet wrote. No jazz musician was more restless – or played more memorable music – than this master of the clarinet and soprano saxophone.
New Orleans music was an ensemble art but the cornet player was traditionally first among equals – except when Sidney Bechet was on the bandstand. A child prodigy born into a music-loving Creole family, he was still in his teens when he developed the huge, impassioned sound that insured that no other instrument could ever drown him out. He toured Europe as a young man, dazzling audiences (including the famed Swiss classical composer Ernest Ansermet) with his virtuosic improvisation. In 1923, he recorded two sides, “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Man Blues.” Afterwards, he was the center of attention from the first measure to the last as his pungent playing inspired a host of young reed players to follow in his footsteps. His last years were spent in France where he became a national icon.
Bechet was edgy and combative, sometimes “powerful mean,” he said. But not when it came to music. “That’s the thing you gotta trust. You got to mean it, and you got to treat it gentle.”
Learn More: www.sidneybechet.org
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