Sidney Bechet, Shake ‘Em Up!

James Lincoln Collier

By James Lincoln Collier

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Although unknown to the general public, when still a teenager Sidney Bechet was vastly admired by the early New Orleans jazz pioneers for his fluid clarinet playing, his power, his fertile imagination and his sense of swing, at which he had few peers. In the early '20s he discovered the soprano saxophone, then little-used, and over time made it his primary instrument. Bechet spent much of the '20s — the decade during which jazz was gathering momentum — in Europe, and as a consequence of his absence from the US and his bristly personality, he was less influential than he might have been. He fell into obscurity in the '30s, but with the revival of the New Orleans style at the end of the decade, he was rediscovered; he recorded frequently thereafter. In l949 Bechet moved permanently to France where he was much celebrated. Bechet was remarkably consistent, and as he tended to dominate any recording he was on, there are likely to be few losers in a compendium like this.

On Disc One, his l939 recording of "Summertime" for the new Blue Note company was a surprising bestseller in jazz terms, and brought Bechet wider attention. The eight Bechet-Spanier Big-Four cuts — with cornetist Muggsy Spanier, a mute specialist highly regarded by fans of the New Orleans revival — were much admired. "Blues for Tommy," a requiem for his long-time musical companion Tommy Ladnier, shows Bechet's mastery of the form.