Arguably one of the best saxophonists and clarinetists the world has ever seen, Sidney Bechet is said to have revolutionized the Jazz music of today. A musician of a rather eccentric personality, Bechet’s approach to playing Jazz was extremely different and far-fetched, yet produced some of the most respected tracks of all time. Bechet is most importantly known for his innovative playing style, flexibility and distinctive vibrato gauges in his music. Over a four decade long career, Bechet enjoyed travelling around the world introducing his music and making records with a large number of respected musicians.
Sidney Bechet’s impressive ability to learn new instruments quickly put him in a suitable place to pick up the clarinet at a very early age. He would learn any instrument that was in the house, mostly by teaching himself the basics. With these practices, he devised some his own playing styles that he would make good use of for the remainder of his professional career. Not long after, he was playing in the company of renowned musicians like Lorenzo Tio, Big Eye Louis Nelson, and George Baquet, and also with some of the most popular bands around New Orleans. His skill with the clarinet reached to such prominent heights that he began teaching students who were much younger in age. Around this time, Bechet mostly focused on orchestral works in bands such as Olympia Orchestra, with the overarching goal of playing outstanding solos on his clarinet. Around 1914, Bechet hoped for a wider exposure to Jazz music and decided to travel as far up as New York, where his partnership with Will Cook opened doors to overseas opportunities.
The orchestra, led by Will Cook, now travelled to Europe, first performing at the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Hall in London. After giving an impressive performance, Bechet was well-received by the audience. London was also the place where he saw his first saxophone, an instrument that soon became his primary performance preference. However, it was only in the early 1920s that Bechet first recorded some of his earliest tracks, some of which include hit singles like Wild Cat Blues and Kansas City Man Blues. These early releases are known to feature some creative ragtime elements in their arrangements, with distinctive use of 12- and 16-bar blues melodies. Bechet still, however, was not tired of touring and soon sailed to Europe for a number of gigs in France. Much of the late 1920s and early 1930s saw Bechet play with a number of bands like the Revue Negre, Noble Sissle’s orchestra and another band lead by Tommy Ladnier, all the while also occasionally performing around America.
Unfortunately, the impact of the Great Depression years was still felt hard by Bechet, who decided to open up a tailor shop as a result of a lack of composing opportunities. This shop became known for it’s music sessions much throughout the 1940s, after which Bechet relocated to France where he would spend the remainder of his life. In this period, partly due to the warm reception he received from the French Jazz enthusiasts, he made some successful tunes such as Les Oignons, Promenade aux Champ Elysees and Petite Fleur.
Throughout his life, Sidney Bechet invoked a vibrant sensation in Jazz music, and composed some of the most famous tunes with the aid of several musicians he would meet on his tours. His dominant playing style, impressive solos and creativity truly aspired to a revolutionary time in Jazz music, and is remembered and praised to this day.