About this Recording
8.120741 - BECHET, Sidney: House Party (1943-1952)

‘House Party’ Original Recordings 1943-1952

Sidney Bechet had such a direct and passionate tone on the soprano-sax that he was both loved and detested by various listeners. Both Duke Ellington and John Coltrane considered him among their favorite players yet, for some fans, Bechet’s wide vibrato and insistence on playing lead (usually the role of trumpeters in New Orleans jazz) made him less popular. But if one comes to Bechet’s music on his own terms, there is a great deal to appreciate and enjoy.

Born 14 May 1897 in New Orleans, Sidney Bechet was a prodigy. He took clarinet lessons from Lorenzo Tio, Big Eye Louis Nelson and George Baquet but soon surpassed each of his teachers and while still a child was playing with some of the top bands in New Orleans. After working throughout the South with various groups, in 1917 Bechet moved to Chicago where he played with King Oliver and Freddie Keppard. Two years later he joined Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, being featured as a star soloist with Cook in New York and in Europe. Bechet bought his first soprano-sax in London and created a sensation overseas.

Back in New York in 1923, Bechet made his recording debut and became the first significant jazz horn soloist on records, playing brilliantly on “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Man Blues” with Clarence Williams’ Blue Five. He also appeared on records opposite Louis Armstrong and backing blues singers, in addition to having an unrecorded stint with Duke Ellington’s early orchestra.

Bechet would have been a bigger influence in jazz had he not spent 1925-29 back in Europe, working in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Russia and all throughout the continent. While his style of jazz was considered out of vogue during much of the 1930s, Bechet worked with Noble Sissle’s orchestra and in 1932 led his own short-lived New Orleans Feetwarmers with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. In 1939 things greatly improved when he recorded a hit version of “Summertime” for the new Blue Note label.

The rise of the New Orleans jazz revival movement resulted in Bechet working constantly during the 1940s, recording many classics during 1939-41, guesting on some of Eddie Condon’s Town Hall concerts and in 1945 trying unsuccessfully to co-lead a New Orleans-style band with veteran trumpeter Bunk Johnson who unfortunately had become an unreliable alcoholic.

This collection begins in 1943 with a couple of extended ‘V-Disc’ performances. These special recordings, which were made for American servicemen stationed in Europe, feature Bechet in exuberant form, matching wits with trombonist Vic Dickenson (who was a perfect frontline partner) and a rhythm section that includes the underrated bassist Wilson Myers. Bugle Call Rag with its exciting breaks and Ole Miss have often been played as a medley and this rendition is particularly rousing. After You’ve Gone starts out as a ballad and then, after a drum break, it really cooks.

Mezz Mezzrow was a well meaning if limited clarinettist who loved playing ensemble-oriented jazz and was at his best on blues. A hustler who always fought for the music he loved even if his own playing was far from virtuosic, during 1945- 47 Mezzrow founded and ran his own King Jazz label. The great majority of the selections he recorded matched his clarinet with Bechet’s soprano and a sampling is included on this collection.

Trumpeter Hot Lips Page is a strong asset on the slow blues House Party and he takes an expressive vocal on Blood On The Moon. Page plays with great feeling and was wise enough to leave plenty of space for the musical commentary of Bechet and Mezzrow. Pleasant Joe takes a guest vocal on Saw Mill Blues, adding a country blues feeling to the music while the three horns all comment freely.

Without Page and Joseph on the 30 August 1945 session, Bechet and Mezzrow romp freely on Old School which is based on “Tishomingo Blues”. They interact closely on Out Of The Gallion, a slow blues on which Mezzrow does his best to follow Bechet both in mood and style. Bowin’ The Blues received its name due to the bowed bass of veteran Pops Foster, who was a contemporary of Bechet from New Orleans. As with many of the Mezzrow sessions, the melody is ambiguous and was largely made up on the spot while the band dug into playing the blues. Deluxe Stomp is a logical follow-up for it sounds like the same song as Bowin’ The Blues except at a peppier and happier tempo.

The team of singer Leola ‘Coot’ Grant and pianist-singer Wesley ‘Sox’ Wilson were well known in black vaudeville in the 1920s. They were making a brief comeback in the mid-1940s when Mezz Mezzrow enlisted them for the 18 September 1946 session. Coot Grant is featured singing Evil Gal Blues (no relation to the Dinah Washington hit), urged on by the playing of Bechet and Mezzrow. Really The Blues was originally recorded by Bechet and Mezzrow with Tommy Ladnier in 1938. This remake is a two-part extended blues that expands upon the mood of the original version. Breathless Blues features Bechet making a rare appearance on the clarinet, blending in very well with Mezzrow for a medium-tempo ensemble piece that is full of joy.

With the rise of bebop in the late 1940s and the decline of swing, Bechet found it a bit more difficult to get good jobs. He had dreams of opening up a music school so he hung up a sign that proclaimed that he was teaching music. Bechet ended up only getting one steady pupil, but it was a future great, Bob Wilbur, who became his protégé. Wilbur was initially strongly influenced by Bechet until he developed his own approach to traditional jazz. Bechet was so impressed by Wilbur’s potential that he recorded with him on a couple of occasions. The Broken Windmill, a delightful Bechet original, has Wilbur and the young but already brilliant stride pianist Dick Wellstood teaming up with a group of veterans. A change of pace is offered on Box Car Shorty, which features the group being joined by the calypso singer The Duke Of Iron.

1949 was the turning point in the career of Sidney Bechet. He was invited to the Salle Pleyel Jazz Festival in Paris that summer and his performances, the hit of the festival, were greeted by such enthusiastic audiences that he decided to move permanently to France. Within a couple of years he was a national celebrity, becoming much more famous in France than he ever was in the United States.

Black And Blue and When It’s Sleepy Time Down South feature Bechet in London with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton’s band. While Lyttelton, pianist George Webb and, to a lesser extent, trombonist Keith Christie and clarinettist Wally Fawkes would be major forces in the British traditional jazz movement of the 1950s, in this setting they were happy to play a secondary role behind the great Bechet.

At The Jazz Band Ball was recorded a few months before Bechet’s great success in Paris. It teams him with the usually competitive cornetist Wild Bill Davison. Davison had great respect for Bechet and his simple but colorful lead proved to be surprisingly compatible with the intense soprano-saxophonist, leading to some musical fireworks that are always quite musical.

Bechet visited the United States on a few occasions during 1950-53 but after 1949 his home was France. For the next ten years he played before large and boisterous crowds. Two of his most popular showcases were Petite fleur and Les oignons, which are heard here in spirited versions with clarinettist Claude Luter’s orchestra.

Sidney Bechet enjoyed fame and prosperity in France during his last years, passing away on 14 May 1959. Although it is a pity that he did not become a household name in the United States, he is today recognized as one of the true giants of jazz.

Scott Yanow – author of eight jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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