Sidney Bechet

Born 14 May 1897. Died 14 May 1959.
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Arena  |  BBC Two

Sidney Bechet - St. Louis Blues

Archive footage of Bechet playing St. Louis Blues combined with an actor reading from his memoirs.

Featured in BBC Music Clips


Along with his fellow New Orleanian, Louis Armstrong, Bechet was one of the first great soloists in jazz. His throaty, powerful clarinet, and his throbbing soprano are among the most thrilling sounds in early jazz. He went from being a pioneer of jazz in the 1920s to a national hero in France, where he spent the final decade of his life. In his teens he made his name playing in some of New Orleans's up-and-coming bands, and he played there and in Chicago with King Oliver and Freddie Keppard.

But early on he showed signs of wanderlust , and came to Europe in 1919 with the 'syncopated orchestra' of Will Marion Cook. He ended up travelling widely, living in both London and Paris, though his fiery temper got him into trouble and he was deported. In the USA he worked with Duke Ellington, and recorded with Louis Armstrong, but he also returned to Europe with bandleader Noble Sissle. Bechet spent most of the 1930s and 1940s in America, and from his brilliant recordings with his New Orleans Feetwarmers in 1932, to his long series of discs for Victor, he bridged the gap between being at the height of fashion, and becoming a figurehead of the 1940s 'revival' of early jazz styles.

He played the latter role to the hilt , making splendid discs for Blue Note and for clarinettist Mezz Mezzrow's King Jazz label, and he had a hit with his version of Gershwin's Summertime. Once he moved to France he made dozens of popular discs, and became a father figure to European musicians who wanted to play in the 'classic' jazz style.

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