Sidney Bechet

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Sidney Bechet, Freddie Moore and Lloyd Phillips at Jimmy Ryan's (Club), New York, around June 1947, photo: William P. Gottlieb
Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet ['sɪdni' beʃeɪ] (born May 14, 1897 in New Orleans , † May 14, 1959 in Garches near Paris ) was a Creole soprano saxophonist and clarinetist . Bechet was one of the most important soloists of early jazz alongside Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong . As a jazz musician from New Orleans, he was particularly popular in France , where he was less exposed to racism than in the United States .


Sidney Bechet was the son of a music-loving cobbler. He taught himself to play the clarinet at the age of 6 on the instrument of his older brother Leonard (later a dentist and trombonist). In exchange for tobacco he also took lessons from the clarinetists Lorenzo Tio and George Bacquet , the "ancestors" of the New Orleans clarinet, which, according to his own statement, were of little use to him; he could never really read music. Instead, he learned a wide variety of instruments by listening and observing, for example in 1911 with his role model, the cornetist Freddie Keppard .

Around 1908 the three brothers Sidney, Leonard and Joseph Bechet formed the core of the Silver Bell Band with Sidney on clarinet. Around 1911 Sidney played with Bunk Johnson in the Eagle Orchestra , which had once been the band Buddy Boldens . Johnson introduced Bechet to the young Louis Armstrong, who had joined Johnson. According to his memory, Bechet hired Armstrong for an advertising engagement in 1913. However, Armstrong, born in 1901, spent 1913 and part of 1914 in an orphanage.

In 1914 Bechet played with Clarence Williams on a tour of department stores in Texas, in 1916 with King Oliver and in 1917 in Chicago , including with Lawrence Duhé . As early as 1919 he was in New York and made a European tour with Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopated Orchestra . In London he got his first soprano saxophone (which he later taught the clown Grock to play ) and gave a gala performance at Buckingham Palace. Then he toured with Louis Mitchell . In 1920 he played in Paris at the Apollo in Montmartre and then went to London, where he was expelled for a harmless woman's story, which earned him an assault charge. From 1921 to 1922 he toured the United States and made friends with Bessie Smith . From 1923 to 1925 he was mostly in New York. First record he made recordings in 1923 with Clarence Williams' Blue Five , in this occupation temporarily or jointly with Louis Armstrong . He accompanied blues singers, played in vaudeville (where "hot specialties" were in demand) and in 1924 played in Duke Ellington's orchestra. On another European tour in 1925 he appeared in the orchestra of the Revue nègre , with which Josephine Baker had her breakthrough - she demonstrated the Charleston for the first time in Europe at the Paris Théâtre des Champs-Élysées . They toured further through Belgium, where Josephine Baker left the revue in favor of the Folies Bergère , then through Russia, where Bechet became friends with Tommy Ladnier in Moscow , and finally through Germany, where he played in Berlin at Haus Vaterland on Potsdamer Platz. In 1928 he was in Paris, but after eleven months he got into trouble when a French woman was accidentally injured by a grazing shot during an argument among musicians. Sentenced to fifteen months in prison, of which he served eleven months, he was then expelled from the country and first went to Berlin. In 1930 he could be heard in the German film Burglar (with Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch), but hardly seen. Then he was signed to the USA by Noble Sissle .

In 1932 he played with his own New Orleans Feetwarmers at the Savoy Ballroom in New York. This resulted in excellent recordings with Ladnier, with whom he temporarily ran a tailor's shop during the Depression of 1933/34. From 1934 to 1938 he played again with Sissle, with whom he also made recordings. In 1937 he saw new opportunities in the New Orleans Revival and in 1938 he played with his own bands in Nick's . In 1938 he had a hit with George Gershwin'sSummertime ”, made recordings for Hugues Panassié ( Panassie Sessions with Ladnier and Mezz Mezzrow ) and from 1939 for Blue Note , which were broadcast by resistance broadcasters during World War II, which greatly contributed to his popularity in France. Between 1938 and 1942 he recorded a lot for the RCA sub-label Bluebird ( Bluebird sessions with Ladnier and others). In 1939 he played with Jelly Roll Mortons New Orleans Jazzmen , with Ladnier and with the quintet by Meade Lux Lewis , in 1940 with Armstrong and with Earl Hines . In 1941 he made solo recordings, played with Vic Dickenson (as in 1943), with Henry Red Allen and in a trio with Willie The Lion Smith .

Thanks to bubbly royalties, he soon became a homeowner in Brooklyn. In 1946/7 he made recordings for Mezzrow's label King Jazz . In the 1940s he was regularly heard with guitarist Eddie Condon in New York City , where he took part in several of his Town Hall Concerts . In 1945 he tried to set up a band with the New Orleans veteran Bunk Johnson , but this failed because of his alcohol problems. Bechet wanted to start a music school, but had only one student ( Bob Wilber ).

After the Festival International 1949 de Jazz, to his own surprise, when he met with a great response in Paris, he stayed there. His records were so successful in France that he was able to sell his millionth record in 1950. In addition, racial prejudice played a less important role in Paris. The existentialist youth in France worshiped Sidney Bechet as "Le Dieu" ("the God"). His vibrato-rich saxophone playing and his compositions Petite Fleur (Little Flower) and Dans les rues d'Antibes made Sidney Bechet a wide audience.

He formed the Sidney Bechet All Stars with Guy Longnon (trumpet), Jean-Louis Durand (trombone), Charlie Lewis (piano), Alf "Totole" Masselier (bass), Armand Molinetti (drums) and James Campbell (vocals) ; he himself played the soprano saxophone or the clarinet, both of which are rarely perfect. In this formation, eleven tracks were recorded in Paris on January 21, 1952 (Vogue # 520121), including his own composition Petite fleur . It became a worldwide hit in 1959 with over 10 million copies sold by 1961. He played with the young traditionalist jazz bands of Claude Luter (e.g. in the 1954 Olympics ) and André Réwéliotty and Americans in Paris such as Lil Hardin Armstrong and Zutty Singleton . In 1955 his ballet music The night is a witch was performed in Brussels. He also appeared in French films in the Noire series . His last appearance was in 1958 at the world exhibition in Brussels . He died in 1959 on his 62nd birthday of lung cancer in a Paris clinic. Thousands gave him his last escort . He is buried in Garches, a parish in the greater Paris area. A bust of him can be seen in the French spa town of Juan-les-Pins , where he recently played frequently.

Sidney Bechet was one of the most tech-savvy musicians of the New Orleans Jazz era . As a clarinetist and saxophonist, he became a role model for many other jazz musicians, for example Johnny Hodges (whom Bechet hired and taught around 1924), Buster Bailey and Jimmie Noone (whom Bechet taught as a teen in New Orleans, although he was 2 years older). The soprano saxophone is still closely associated with his name. Famous recordings by Bechet include Petite fleur, the first recording of Summertime ( George Gershwin ) for Blue Note (1938) and Weary Blues with Mezz Mezzrow and cousin Joe .

On August 18, 1951, Bechet married his old love, Elisabeth Ziegler (1910–1985) from Frankfurt am Main in Antibes , who he had met in summer 1927 during a guest performance in her hometown. The Mistinguett was maid of honor. He had a son Daniel (* 1954) with Jacqueline Peraldi.


His discography is full of curiosities, e.g. B. Les oignons 1953 with surprising pauses. He used rumba and merengues long before Latin jazz emerged . In 1941 he undertook an early experiment in overdubbing for RCA when he takes on a recording of Sheik of Araby itself plays all six instruments (clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums), 1965 by RCA Victor on Bechet of New Orleans re-released .

In France he made many recordings for Charles Delaunay's Vogue label , whose liner notes are an important source.

Discography (selection)

  • Port of Harlem Jazzmen , 1939
  • Jazz Nocturne Vol. 5 , 1945
  • Jazz Nocturne Vol. 6 , 1945
  • Jazz Nocturne Vol. 10 , 1945
  • Jazz Nocturne Vol. 11 , 1945
  • Jazz Nocturne Vol. 12 , 1945
  • Giants of Jazz , 1949
  • Sidney Bechet's Blue Note Jazzmen , 1950
  • Immortal Performances , 1952
  • New Orleans Style, Old and New , 1952
  • Olympia concert, Paris (live) , 1954
  • Back to Memphis , 1956
  • Creole Reeds , 1956
  • Grand Master of the Soprano Sax and Clarinet , 1956
  • When a Soprano Needs a Piano , 1957
  • Parisian Encounter , 1958
  • Brussels Fair '58 (live) , 1958
  • The fabulous Sidney Bechet , 1958



  • Sidney Bechet: Treat it gentle 1960 (German Petite fleur. Memories of a gifted jazz musician. Luchterhand Literaturverlag, Hamburg 1992 with a discography by Wallbaum (274 pages), as well as All children of God wear a crown , Sanssouci Verlag 1961); ISBN 978-3-630-71054-9
  • Sidney Bechet: How can you play a contract? About musicians, people and the music industry as creativity killers (28 pages), Der Grüne Zweig 214, Löhrbach 2000, ISBN 978-3-922708-33-9
  • Arrigo Polillo: Jazz. Piper, Munich 1994
  • John Chilton: Sidney Bechet, the Wizard of Jazz. Macmillan, London 1987

Web links

Commons : Sidney Bechet  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Notes and sources

  1. biography at
  2. ^ Vic Hobson: Creating the Jazz Solo. Louis Armstrong and Barbershop Harmony . University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2018, pp. 74-76.
  3. There he was noticed at a concert at the Royal Philharmony in London by the conductor Ernest Ansermet , who wrote a review in the Revue Romande in 1919, printed in Wolbers (ed.) Thats Jazz , Darmstadt 1988. One of the first jazz reviews.
  4. Collier Duke Ellington , Knaur, pp. 97ff. According to Collier only in the summer of 1924. Ellington was enthusiastic about his game. After Collier, he was one of the first New Orleans musicians to hear Ellington, so Bechet's involvement was also important to the band's development.
  5. Hentoff reports ( [1] ) that Bechet sat in the front row during his solo in the Savoy Cafe in Boston, with a long row of cognac glasses, which he threw at Johnson every time Johnson played the wrong note.
  6. Sidney Bechet in the Find a Grave database . Retrieved September 7, 2017.