BECHET, Sidney: House Party

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'House Party' Original Recordings 1943-1952

Sidney Bechet had such a direct and passionatetone on the soprano-sax that he was both lovedand detested by various listeners. Both DukeEllington and John Coltrane considered himamong their favorite players yet, for some fans,Bechet's wide vibrato and insistence on playinglead (usually the role of trumpeters in NewOrleans jazz) made him less popular. But if onecomes to Bechet's music on his own terms, thereis a great deal to appreciate and enjoy.

Born 14 May 1897 in New Orleans, SidneyBechet was a prodigy. He took clarinet lessonsfrom Lorenzo Tio, Big Eye Louis Nelson andGeorge Baquet but soon surpassed each of histeachers and while still a child was playing withsome of the top bands in New Orleans. Afterworking throughout the South with variousgroups, in 1917 Bechet moved to Chicago wherehe played with King Oliver and Freddie Keppard.

Two years later he joined Will Marion Cook'sSouthern Syncopated Orchestra, being featuredas a star soloist with Cook in New York and inEurope. Bechet bought his first soprano-sax inLondon and created a sensation overseas.

Back in New York in 1923, Bechet made hisrecording debut and became the first significantjazz horn soloist on records, playing brilliantly on\Wild Cat Blues" and "Kansas City Man Blues"with Clarence Williams' Blue Five. He alsoappeared on records opposite Louis Armstrongand backing blues singers, in addition to havingan unrecorded stint with Duke Ellington's earlyorchestra.

Bechet would have been a bigger influence injazz had he not spent 1925-29 back in Europe,working in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Russia andall throughout the continent. While his style ofjazz was considered out of vogue during much ofthe 1930s, Bechet worked with Noble Sissle'sorchestra and in 1932 led his own short-livedNew Orleans Feetwarmers with trumpeterTommy Ladnier. In 1939 things greatlyimproved when he recorded a hit version of"Summertime" for the new Blue Note label.

The rise of the New Orleans jazz revivalmovement resulted in Bechet working constantlyduring the 1940s, recording many classics during1939-41, guesting on some of Eddie Condon'sTown Hall concerts and in 1945 tryingunsuccessfully to co-lead a New Orleans-styleband with veteran trumpeter Bunk Johnson whounfortunately had become an unreliablealcoholic.

This collection begins in 1943 with a coupleof extended 'V-Disc' performances. These specialrecordings, which were made for Americanservicemen stationed in Europe, feature Bechet inexuberant form, matching wits with trombonistVic Dickenson (who was a perfect frontlinepartner) and a rhythm section that includes theunderrated bassist Wilson Myers. Bugle CallRag with its exciting breaks and Ole Miss haveoften been played as a medley and this renditionis particularly rousing. After You've Gone startsout as a ballad and then, after a drum break, itreally cooks.

Mezz Mezzrow was a well meaning if limitedclarinettist who loved playing ensemble-orientedjazz and was at his best on blues. A hustler whoalways fought for the music he loved even if hisown playing was far from virtuosic, during 1945-47 Mezzrow founded and ran his own King Jazzlabel. The great majority of the selections herecorded matched his clarinet with Bechet'ssoprano and a sampling is included on thiscollection.

Trumpeter Hot Lips Page is a strong asset onthe slow blues House Party and he takes anexpressive vocal on Blood On The Moon. Pageplays with great feeling and was wise enough toleave plenty of space for the musical commentaryof Bechet and Mezzrow. Pleasant Joe takes aguest vocal on Saw Mill Blues, adding a countryblues feeling to the music while the three hornsall comment freely.

Without Page and Joseph on the 30 August1945 session, Bechet and Mezzrow romp freelyon Old School which is based on "TishomingoBlues". They interact closely on Out Of TheGallion, a slow blues on which Mezzrow does hisbest to follow Bechet both in mood and style.

Bowin' The Blues received its name due to thebowed bass of veteran Pops Foster, who was acontemporary of Bechet from New Orleans. Aswith many of the Mezzrow sessions, the melodyis ambiguous and was largely made up on thespot while the band dug into playing the blues.

Deluxe Stomp is a logical follow-up for it soundslike the same song as Bowin' The Blues except ata peppier and happier tempo.

The team of singer Leola 'Coot' Grant andpianist-singer Wesley 'Sox' Wilson were wellknown in black vaudeville in the 1920s. Theywere making a brief comeback in the mid-1940swhen Mezz Mezzrow enlisted them for the18 September 1946 session. Coot Grant isfeatured singing Evil Gal Blues (no relation tothe Dinah Washington hit), urged on by theplaying of Bechet and Mezzrow. Really TheBlues was originally recorded by Bechet andMezzrow with Tommy Ladnier in 1938. Thisremake is a two-part extended blues thatexpands upon the mood of the original version.

Breathless Blues features Bechet making a rareappearance on the clarinet, blending in very wellwith Mezzrow for a medium-tempo ensemblepiece that is full of joy.

With the rise of bebop in the late 1940s andthe decline of swing, Bechet found it a bit moredifficult to get good jobs. He had dreams ofopening up a music school so he hung up a signthat proclaimed that he was teaching music.

Bechet ended up only getting one steady pupil,but it was a future great, Bob Wilbur, whobecame his protege. Wilbur was initially stronglyinfluenced by Bechet until he developed his ownapproach to traditional jazz. Bechet was soimpressed by Wilbur's potential that he recordedwith him on a couple of occasions. The BrokenWindmill, a delightful Bechet original, hasWilbur and the young but already brilliant stridepianist Dick Wellstood teaming up with a groupof veterans. A change of pace is offered on BoxCar Shorty, which features the group beingjoined by the calypso singer The Duke Of Iron.

1949 was the turning point in the career ofSidney Bechet. He was invited to the Salle PleyelJazz Festival in Paris that summer and hisperformances, the hit of the festival, were greetedby such enthusiastic audiences that he decided tomove permanently to France. Within a couple ofyears he was a national celebrity, becoming muchmore famous in France than he ever was in theUnited States.

Black And Blue and When It's Sleepy TimeDown South feature Bechet in London withtrumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton's band. WhileLyttelton, pianist George Webb and, to a lesserextent, trombonist Keith Christie and clarinettistWally Fawkes would be major forces in theBritish traditional jazz movement of the 1950s,in this setting they were happy to play asecondary role behind the great Bechet.

At The Jazz Band Ball was recorded a fewmonths before Bechet's great success in Paris. Itteams him with the usually competitive cornetistWild Bill Davison. Davison had great respect forBechet and his simple but colorful lead proved tobe surprisingly compatible with the intensesoprano-saxophonist, leading to some musicalfireworks that are always quite musical.

Bechet visited the United States on a fewoccasions during 1950-53 but after 1949 hishome was France. For the next ten years heplayed before large and boisterous crowds. Twoof his most popular showcases were Petite fleurand Les oignons, which are heard here in spiritedversions with clarinettist Claude Luter'sorchestra.

Sidney Bechet enjoyed fame and prosperity inFrance during his last years, passing away on14 May 1959. Although it is a pity that he didnot become a household name in the UnitedStates, he is today recognized as one of the truegiants of jazz.

Scott Yanow - author of eight jazz books includingJazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and JazzOn Record 1917-76"
Disc: 1
Les oignons
1 V-Disc Blues: Bugle Call Rag / Ole Miss (W.C. Hand
2 After You've Gone
3 House Party
4 Blood On The Moon
5 Saw Mill Blues
6 Old School
7 Out Of The Gallion
8 Bowin' The Blues
9 De Luxe Stomp
10 Evil Gal Blues
11 Really The Blues
12 Breathless Blues
13 The Broken Windmill
14 Black And Blue
15 Box Car Shorty (A Dixieland Calypso)
16 When It's Sleepy Time Down South
17 At The Jazz Band Ball
18 Petite fleur
19 Les oignons
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