And on a lighter note…Bechet!

November 18, 2006 at 9:29 pm (jazz, Jim D, literature, wild man)

The Priest and I agree that this here blog should maintain a balance between politics and other -lighter- matters. In fact, we are always open to suggestions for light-hearted, or at least, diverting, subjects. The latest James Bond, the latest Martin Scorsese film, for instance. Or maybe why “Torchwood” hasn’t worked; or how it is that “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” is so good. We, at “Shiraz Socialist” positively want people who can comment on these sort of trivial, petty-bourgeois matters. The Priest doesn’t seem very interested, and I have the disadvantage of not knowing very much about contemporary “culture”, beyond such facts as that Fred Elliot was very entertaining, and Mylene (“I’m A Celebrity”) is very intelligent and brave…

Anyway, to take a leaf out of Dave Osler’s blog, ‘Dave’s Part’ (I can’t be arsed to do a link, but you’ll find one on the right), I’m going to do a “Saturday Night Is Music Night” feature, and invite all you lot to participate. I amazed the Priest and Mike (of ‘Mike’s Little Red Page’) by revealing, today, in the pub, that I knew who the “Smiths” were (a popular music ensemble, Your Honour)…

Anyway, I’m afraid that to start this, I will have to go back to my childhood, and the first jazz musician I ever learned to recognise just from his sound: Sidney Bechet. Bechet (who started out as a clarinetist, and continued to play the clarinet throughout his life), was the first jazz player of that strange instrument, the straight soprano saxophone. And until the arrival of John Coltrane, Bechet was the *only* significant soprano-player; all others (and there weren’t that many: Johnny Hodges and Tab Smith being the only obvious contenders) , having to base themselves upon Bechet. He dominated his instrument in a way that Armstrong didn’t dominate the trumpet: on trumpet – even in Armstrong’s time, there were other contenders, like ‘Red’ Allen and Roy Eldridge; in the 1920’s and ’30’s there was no-one playing soprano sax in jazz; or, at least, no-one to match Bechet.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to Bechet playing “Perdido Street Stomp” with the incompetent Mezz Mezzrow (whom bechet covered-up for) and the great trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page: it’s wonderful. I can thoroughly recommend spending an evening in with Bechet and a bottle (or two) of cheap read wine.; the only danger (as my pal, the clarinetist Norman Field, once warned me) is that the combination of Bechet and wine could cause you to hyper-ventilate.

Philip Larkin was crazy about Bechet (‘Blue Horizon’ was played by a live band at Larkin’s funeral), and wrote this about him:

For Sidney Bechet
That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares–Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced
Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.

Philip Larkin

1 Comment

  1. themusicologist said,

    brilliant post…
    just came across it in relation to a theme I am rolling out on my musical diary featuring Bechet and Louis Armstrong, (twolegendsclash)

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