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Vive la France

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Album Review

Sidney Bechet spent much of the last decade of his life in France, where he was treated like a Duc or a Marquis. The French had enough sense to honor Bechet and other African American musicians while they were still alive (even naming streets after Bechet and Louis Armstrong), and over the years, the French labels have reissued Bechet's later works with respectful thoroughness. Whereas the Classics chronological series wins highest marks for well over a dozen sequential volumes dedicated to Bechet, EPM's four-CD set, Vive la France, casually samples his recording activity during the years 1932-1953. Although the title might convey the mistaken impression that the contents are drawn exclusively from Bechet's Parisian triumphs, this 80-track anthology is laid out in a reverse chronology, opening with mostly Vogue recordings from Paris in the early ‘50s and drifting gradually over to Bechet's stateside strata, dipping all the way back to his tenure with Noble Sissle's Swingsters and his earliest dates as leader of his New Orleans Feetwarmers. This means that in addition to European players like clarinetists Claude Luter and Andre Réweliotty, cornetists Claude Rabanit and Pierre Dervaux, trombonists Mowgli Jospin and Guy Lognon, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer "Moustache" Galepides, the collective personnel listing is peppered with familiar names from back home like frontliners Tommy Ladnier, Rex Stewart, Bill Coleman, Sidney DeParis, and Mezz Mezzrow, as well as Earl Hines, Cliff Jackson, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Meade "Lux" Lewis, Wilson Myers, Pops Foster, Wellman Braud, Kenny Clarke, Sid Catlett, and Baby Dodds. It's like a crash course in traditional New Orleans-styled jazz, both home-grown and transplanted to European soil. For a more thorough and systematic celebration of Bechet's Parisian adventures, look to the Classics chronological series. EPM's cover art was drawn from a large body of jazz-inspired works by Parisian painter Sacha Chimkevitch (1920-2006).


Born: 14 May 1897 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

Sidney Bechet was the first important jazz soloist on records in history (beating Louis Armstrong by a few months). A brilliant soprano saxophonist and clarinetist with a wide vibrato that listeners either loved or hated, Bechet's style did not evolve much through the years but he never lost his enthusiasm or creativity. A master at both individual and collective improvisation within the genre of New Orleans jazz, Bechet was such a dominant player that trumpeters found it very difficult to play with...
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