New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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1897 Sidney Bechet is Born -- and died on his 62nd Birthday in 1959

Considered one of the most important jazz musicians of all time, Sidney
Bechet was the king of the soprano saxophone and an innovative clarinetist. A
master of improvisation, he often played lead parts usually reserved for
trumpet. His work is still highly regarded today.

A child prodigy, Bechet began playing jazz professionally at age 13 (some biographies say earlier). The young clarinetist worked with many of the top bands and musicians in New Orleans. At age 17 he moved to Chicago, where he quickly garnered a top reputation. In 1919, he travelled to Europe with Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopated Orchestra, a concert group that performed mainly fixed arrangements. Bechet could not read music, but was featured in blues numbers. He remained in Europe until 1923, playing for various outfits, including Louis Mitchell's Jazz Kings.

While in Europe, Bechet discovered the soprano saxophone. Upon his return home, it became his main instrument. Back in the States, he worked with various outfits and musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington. He also ran his own Harlem nightclub, the Club Basha, where he featured Johnny Hodges in his orchestra.

Bechet returned to Europe in 1925, living and playing in France, England, and Germany. In 1929, after a brush with the law in Paris, he settled in Germany until his return to the United States in 1931 with the Noble Sissle Orchestra.

Bechet continued to perform during the thirties. His popularity, however, waned as the swing era dawned. In the early thirties, he formed the New Orleans Feetwarmers with Tommy Ladnier. The group's sound proved outdated and the two men gave up music briefly to run a tailor ship together.

In 1938, Bechet again had a hit song, with ''Summertime.'' He continued to struggle, though, unable to get the proper support from his record company, RCA. During the forties, he worked regularly with Eddie Condon and tried to form his own band with Bunk Johnson. A New Orleans revival in the late forties finally improved his fortunes. Hailed as one of the great jazz pioneers, he was again recognized for the genius of his work.  In 1939, Bechet played saxophone & sang with Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Jazzmen.

In 1951, Bechet returned to France, where he lived out the remainder of his life. His latter recordings often rivaled pop groups on the French music charts. Sidney Bechet passed away on his 62nd birthday in 1959 in Garche, France.


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