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16 Classic Performances: Sidney Bechet

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Album Review

Sidney Bechet, the first great jazz horn soloist to be featured on records, was a remarkable soprano saxophonist and clarinetist. He dominated ensembles, often taking over the role of a trumpet or cornet, and was such a dazzling soloist that he ended up being the favorite musician of both Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. On this three-CD set, Mosaic Select has included some of the highlights of Bechet's recording career, although not delving into his later Paris years or his much-reissued association with the Victor label. The first disc has what are arguably his 25 best recordings from the 1920s. Mostly heard with combos put together by pianist Clarence Williams, Bechet is in stunning form on his debut session, which resulted in "Wild Cat Blues" and "Kansas City Man Blues." He interacts with such singers as Sara Martin, Mamie Smith, Eva Taylor, Margaret Johnson, Virginia Liston, and Sippie Wallace, and he battles Louis Armstrong on several numbers. Armstrong "wins" on the stunning "Cake Walking Babies from Home," but Bechet steals the show during his lone appearance on the contrabass sarrusophone during "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind." The second disc consists of four complete sessions. Bechet is featured on three numbers (and two alternate takes) with Noble Sissle's orchestra ("Dear Old Southland" is a real showcase) in 1937, on a date with Sissle's rhythm section, and teaming up with baritonist Ernie Caceres in a 1938 sextet. Best from this CD is Bechet's 1947 outing with his protégé clarinetist Bob Wilber's Wildcats, an enthusiastic and talented group of youngsters who also include pianist Dick Wellstood and trombonist Bob Mielke. The final disc has all of the music recorded at a pair of quartet dates in 1947. Most unusual is that Bechet, who was always closely associated with New Orleans jazz, sounds quite at home on such sophisticated material as "Love for Sale," "Laura," "Just One of Those Things" (for which he provides a particularly catchy riff), and the overly dramatic "The Song of Songs." Although there are a lot of alternate takes, each performance is well worth hearing. Coupled with Bechet's Victor recordings and a sampling of his work in the 1950s, this Mosaic Select set (which is a limited edition) is essential.


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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16 Classic Performances: Sidney Bechet, Sidney Bechet
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