Bechet

ilovebech

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This seems to be the place to bang the drum for Sidney,the first and still one of the greatest, sax soloists.I have a modest collection of performances by Bechet on records and CD, including his last, made a few months before he died.I was an apprentice press photographer, for the Birmingham Mail, and I had the honour of photographing Sidney, before his concert at the Birmingham Town Hall.I was so awestruck, I shaved the top of his head off the picture.I remember asking him if he taught Johnny Dodds the great N.O. carinettist. Sidney said these actual words "No I was his inspiration"
 

Young Col

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Thanks, a great post and very interesting.

I must admit that I have never heard any suggestion before that Bechet may have influenced or taught Dodds. As Johnny Dodds was five years older than Bechet any teaching seems unlikely (however precocious Bechet was) and there is little or no sign of any direct influence on Dodds' playing. Both had lessons from Lorenzo Tio at some point (didn't all New Orleans clarinetists?!) and they may well have known each other in N.O., but their career paths didn't cross very much thereafter. Bechet did teach Jimmy Noone in the early days. However I guess that anyone who heard Bechet may well have taken something from his sheer exuberance. But above all, no matter what he said, that memory of a conversation with the master is golden and one you rightly treasure.

Bechet does have his detractors. A pro jazz guitarist friend of mine believes that all that vibrato means he was never in control of his instrument. But I rather liked Bechet's own explanation of why his vibrato had got wider and deeper: "Senility, dear boy, senility..". I'll go with you that he was the first great jazz sax soloist and on soprano too - an instrument notoriously difficult to play in tune on early ones.

We are lucky that he left such a recorded legacy. I love the sides he made with Tommy Ladnier in 1932 (Weary Blues is a classic) and all the Blue Note ones - his comeback record of Summertime from 1939 and the later mid'40's ones with trumpeters Max Kaminsky, Sidney deParis and (a struggling) Bunk Johnson. They produced classic solos like Blue Horizon, Up In Sidney's Flat and Jackass Blues. However for me his greatest set is the HRS sides with Muggsy Spanier in 1940. He didn't have to fight against Muggsy like he did (albeit joyfully) with Kaminsky and de Paris and the result is a sublime collection whether they are delightful ballads like Sweet Lorraine or If I Could Be With You, or tearaway up tempo numbers like China Boy. Brilliant!

YC

ps I have an extract of his ballet, La Nuite et une Sorciere on vinyl as well.
 
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ilovebech

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Thanks for that,I have also read that his vibrato was to cover intonation problems with the sop, I don't believe it,his clarinet playing had massive vibrato,the only N.O. reed player who approached Sidney, was Dodds.I love big vibrato, and use it in my own playing,I even listen to the pop singer Duffy, because of her vibrato!Have you read the Bechet book by John Chilton "The wizard of jazz"
 

Young Col

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I have read John Chilton's book, but can't recall it. Likewise Bechet's autobiography Treat It gentle, but can't remember much of that either, except that I think he comes across as a kind of nomad in his own world and I think he skates over his volcanic earlier years (deported from UK - after playing for royalty too! -, jailed in Paris after a shooting...). Odd because his later interviews and commentaries, especially in French, are rich and softly spoken.

I do actually tend to put Bechet in his own category, separate from N.O. clarinetists. I find it difficult to compare his genius with anyone else. That's not to belittle Johnny Dodds though, but he was a different kind of player. He is of course the perfect foil for Armstrong on the Hot Five and Seven recordings. There is an interesting comparison between Dodds and Omer Simeon, another N.O. great (and a Tio pupil), on the Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Peppers sides. I rate Albert Nicholas (yet another Tio pupil!) with those great players too and there are many other second line ones. I have a soft spot for George Lewis. Not technically brilliant, but always heartfelt and honest and a great polyphonic ensemble player rather a soloist - apart from Burgundy Street Blues, which is mandated for my own funeral (that'll get 'em going!).

BTW I must subscribe to Pete's extra stuff thread and his Egyptian Fantasy score (I have the original on Vinyl, the one Rhys found) and transpose it down for alto sax. Thanks Pete!

YC
 
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ilovebech

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To hear just how far above even the best N.O. clarinet players Bechet was ,listen to the records he made with Albert Nicholas, on Weary Way Blues after a billiant Nicholas crying solo, Bechet just blows him away, on clarinet not soprano.I also saw ,and photographed, George Lewis. He was so much better live than on record, it was like listening to a different player.I was very impressed.
 

Young Col

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You got me listening to that again after many years. You're right but Albert Nicholas was no slouch. I've not a nice set of him in Switzerland in 1969 leading a quartet. I think the thing is Bechet was so dominating it was difficult for other reed players to say anything. He also led rather like a trumpeter. Listen to the companion Blame it on the Blues, but which has Bechet on sop and you see what I mean. That's why he always battled for the lead against people like Kaminsky, de Paris and Wild Bill Davison... and Armstrong. In the end it didn't matter,his solos are magnificent edifices. But it is why I love the sides with Muggsy Spanier, himself a hard driving lead cornet, but somehow they both respected the other.
Colin
 

Young Col

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BTW I envy you seeing Bechet and Lewis. I have some live recordings of George Lewis and he is pretty hot. He still suffers from being self taught, but not as much as some critics suggest. What is great about him is that while all the pro players left NO, he just stayed and carried on playing the only stuff he knew. When the revival came along in the 1940s he was one of the few good players left who played original NO style.
 
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ilovebech

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Most of the N.O. musicians could read,Bechet being the main exception,but both he and Lewis played with reading bands.George Lewis was a lovely man, and could not have been more helpfull to a young photographer.
 

Young Col

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You might be interested in this link:
"You still have a few days to catch Paul Barnes' super tribute on BBC Radio:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002mhdx

Paul played a selection of George's recordings with his Dixielanders, the famouse session with Bechet and some of the Humph Parlophones.
He concluded with 'Ol Miss' from the 2004 CD, "An Evening With George Webb".
This is part of a tribute to George Webb, early UK revivalist who died recently. Haven't listened myself yet, but I have not heard those UK (clandestine) Bechet tracks. It's only got a couple of days left on i-player.
Would love to see your pics of George Lewis. Can you post them on here, or a link? He was known as a very easy, friendly person.
Colin
 
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ilovebech

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bech pic

I recently found my pic of Bechet,it's on my facebook page,if you reply to this I could send an email.
 
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