cosmopolite dès sa jeunesse, Sidney
Bechet est à l'origine de la première
critique de jazz un peu sérieuse.
En 1919, il est le clarinettiste soliste
du Southern Syncopated Orchestra dirigé
par le compositeur Will Marion Cook, qui
refusait d'utiliser le mot «jazz»
mais tenait beaucoup à avoir Bechet
en vedette. Le chef d'orchestre suisse Ernest
Ansermet, qui eut plusieurs fois l'occasion
d'écouter cette formation à
Londres, écrivait à propos
de Bechet: (Il) ne peut rien dire de
son art, sauf qu'il suit sa propre voie...
et c'est peut-être la route sur laquelle
le monde entier swinguera demain.
musical, né au sein d'une famille
créole, il a étudié
auprès de Louis dit "Papa"
Tio et Lorenzo Tio fils à la Nouvelle-
Orléans. Il se joint, en 1917, à
l'exode vers Chicago et y travaille avec
deux célèbres exilés,
le trompettiste Freddie Keppard et le pianiste
Tony Jackson. Puis il accompagne Cook à
Londres où il découvre le
saxophone soprano, instrument plus dominant
que la clarinette et avec lequel il peut
aisément produire le palpitant vibrato
qui est son signe distinctif.En juin 1924,
Sidney Bechet, joint le groupe de Duke Ellington
et commence la deuxième tournée
en Nouvelle-Angleterre avec eux. Moins de
trois mois plus tard, Duke le renvoie après
qu’il ne se soit pas présenté
à trois concerts.
de Grande-Bretagne pour cause de bagarre
dans un hôtel, Bechet s'installe à
New York où le pianiste Clarence
Williams veut à tout prix le faire
enregistrer, en particulier aux côtés
de Louis Armstrong. C'est ainsi qu'a lieu
une première rencontre entre ces
géants du jazz. Cependant, de nouveaux
problèmes le ramènent en Europe
où il passe quatre ans au sein de
la Revue Nègre dont Joséphine
Baker est la vedette. Pendant qu'Armstrong
réalise ses enregistrements classiques,
son principal rival comme soliste de jazz
est en tournée en Europe et en Russie.
un retour triomphal au Festival de jazz
de Paris en 1949, il décide de
s'établir en France. Bechet y devient
une super vedette hexagonale, régnant
sur ses accompagnateurs et attirant les
foules. Son thème Petite Fleur
est un succès mondial, même
si lui-même était probablement
plus fier des partitions de ballets telles
que La Nuit est une sorcière
qu'il compose pour le danseur et chorégraphe
Pierre Lacotte à la manière
des musiques de film de Charlie Chaplin.
est le premier à avoir trouvé
un son original pour le saxophone soprano
et qui ne soit pas une imitation
de celui de la clarinette. Son vibrato est
l'un des plus expressifs du jazz et ouvrira
la voie à bien des saxophonistes
des années 30-40 (Ben Webster, les
saxos du big-band de Duke Ellington).
l'instar de Muggsy Spanier, trompettiste
sensible mais puissant, c'est un modèle
de sobriété, laissant même
le vétéran Bunk Johnson être
le premier trompette dans des orchestrations
proches de l'idéal d'un contrepoint
décontracté, cher à
La Nouvelle- Orléans.
ses plus célèbres enregistrements
il faut faire figurer le remarquable trio
Blues in Thirds, avec Earl Hines et Baby
Dodds, Blue Horizon, Out of The Gallion
avec Mezz Mezzrow, Petite Fleur et
n'importe laquelle de ses versions de Summertime
ou de Weary Blues, un thême qui aurait
pu être composé pour lui.
Bechet was a proponent of Dixieland Jazz
who played the clarinet and was the first
person to play Jazz on a Soprano Saxophone.
Domineering is a word often used to describe
his music. His various fights showed he
had a short temper that shows in his music.
His solo’s were often soaring and passionate,
endlessly inventive, direct rather than
ornate, and quite unmistakable. Early recordings
show him as Louis Armstrong’s equal and,
as he commands the ensemble with his burnished
sound, his timing seems more in keeping
with a trumpet lead than with the contrapuntal
line usually adopted by saxophones and clarinets.
Throughout his life, he never had the discipline
needed to play in a regular band, he always
preferred to be a soloist and worked in
many different bands.
Sidney Bechet was born on May 14, in New
Orleans, Louisiana, into a "Creole"
family. His father ran a shoe shop. All
of Bechet’s brothers were keen musicians,
but Sidney was the most talented.
Without telling his family, he practiced
secretly on his brother Leonard’s clarinet.
During a family party he played along side
Freddie Keppard. His playing was heard by
George Baquet who was amazed by his promise
and decided there and then to give him free
At the age of just 11, he was hired by Bunk
Johnson’s Eagle Band.
His mother gave him permission to play in
the Storyville clubs, provided that Bunk
Johnson, who acted as a kind of guardian,
brought him home each night.
He started playing with King Oliver
He made a tour of Texas in a band led by
From clubs in Perdido Street in New Orleans
he moved to Chicago, first with King Oliver
and then Freddie Keppard. Later he left
Keppard to play in other bands.
With a band of Will Marion Cook he achieved
great personal success in England, earning
the admiration, among others, of the conductor
Ernest Ansermet. When the band broke up
he decided to stay in London with some other
members of the band. He stayed there until,
following a somewhat immoral adventure,
he was hauled before the magistrates and
expelled from the country. In addition to
his love of traveling, Bechet was also well
known for his love of the opposite sex,
a fact that often got him into serious trouble.
while in London he brought a Soprano Saxophone,
a more domineering instrument than the clarinet.
He returned to the United States and got
a job with the musical show "How Come?",
in which the unknown Bessie Smith made her
He made his first recording with Clarence
Williams in the Blue Five and also recorded
with Louis Armstrong.
this period he started to prefer the Soprano
Saxophone to the Clarinet.
In these years he worked with Mamie Smith,
James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington’s Washingtonians.
He also found time to manage a night club
in Harlem the "Club Basha", but
soon gotten tired of that. He also made
his debut in Paris in a band led by Claude
Hopkins, taking part in a show featuring
Josephine Baker. When the show finally ended,
in Berlin, Bechet once more indulged his
love of traveling by taking part in a tour
with Benny Peyton. He ended up in Russia
and in Moscow he met Tommy Ladnier, who
was also on tour. After this he toured all
over Europe before finally going back to
He returned to Paris where after an episode
of violence in which 3 people were wounded
he was sentenced to 11 months in jail and
expelled from France.
Bechet continued to move back and forth
between Europe and the United States. He
went to Berlin and (clandestinely) to Paris
with Noble Sissle’s band, then to New York
and then back to Berlin. He also made a
brief appearance with Duke Ellington’s orchestra,
just enough to influence the style of Johnny
He formed "The New Orleans Feetwarmers"
with Tommy Ladnier and recorded some real
At the end of the year he suddenly decided
to give up music to open , in partnership
with Tommy Ladnier, a shop for mending and
ironing clothes, which they called the "Southern
Tired of his business life, Bechet again
joined Noble Sissle’s band and made some
He left Sissle and free-lanced for a while.
He took part in the "Panassie Session"
with Tommy Ladnier and Milton "Mezz"
He made a superb recording of "Summertime"
with Meade "Lux" Lewis and Teddy
Bunn. He also recorded with Jelly Roll Morton.
An extremely important year. He recorded
four masterpieces with Louis Armstrong,
including "Perdido Street Blues".
He also made some excellent recordings with
a group known as the "Bechet-Spanier
Big Four". He also recorded again with
the "New Orleans Feetwarmers",
reformed as a studio band. One result was
the magnificent "Blues In Thirds"
with Bechet on Clarinet and Earl Hines on
During these year’s Bechet used many jazz
soloists in his recording sessions: Sidney
De Paris, Vic Dickson, Art Hodes, Pops Foster,
Max Kaminsky, Albert Nicholas and others.
He recorded a series of numbers with Mezz
Mezzrow. In 1946 he had an idea of setting
up a music school in Brooklyn; his most
important pupil was Bob Wilber who recorded
with him on several occasions. In 1947 he
was a guest on several editions of Rudy
Blesh’s radio show "This Is Jazz".
In 1948 he played at the Jazz LTD in Chicago.
He took part in the Paris Jazz Festival,
organized by Charles Delauney, with triumphant
success. The French finally forgot about
the sad episode of 1929.
Apart from some brief visits to the United
States, Bechet lived and worked in Paris;
he was literally adored by the French who
knew him affectionately as "Le Dieu".
His music was praised by Jean Paul Sartre’s
existentialists, along with that of Juliette
Greco. Bechet played mostly with the traditional
bands of Claude Luter and André Reweillotty.
In 1952 is song "Petite Fleur"
became a world wide hit, and in 1953 his
ballet score "La Nuit Est Une Sorciere"
premiered in Paris.
Bechet settled in Paris for good.
He recorded an album with Martial Solal,
Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke, entitled
"When a Soprano meets a Piano".
Sidney Bechet died on his sixty-second birthday,
May 14. He had 3 wives over his life and
kept a mistress to which he had a son to
till he died.
inhabitants of Jean-Les-Pins erected a monument
in his honour.