Among the great pantheon of New Orleans Jazz artists, Sidney Bechet is rightfully near the top of that group of legends. The saxophonist was born May 14, 1897, and according to some, brought forth the concept of the soloist in his genre.
Bechet was largely a self-taught child prodigy who picked up the clarinet at the age of six. By the time he was a teenager, Bechet was a professional musician playing in several New Orleans bands. His playing style was described as improvisational and bold, often standing out among the ensemble sets of the bands.
After a stint with bandleader King Oliver’s group, Bechet moved to New York to join composer Will Marion Cook’s Syncopated Orchestra. It was with the Orchestra that Bechet toured Europe and discovered the straight saxophone, and instrument he remained with for the duration of his professional career. As noted by experts, Bechet was able to bring his bold, innovative style of playing the clarinet to the saxophone.
While in Europe, Bechet spent about a year in jail after a gunfight broke out between him and some other musicians. In his autobiography “Treat It Gentle.” Bechet wrote that he accidentally shot a woman but was trying to shoot a man who insulted him and his playing. After his release from a Paris jail, Bechet was deported and relocated to Berlin, Germany.
Bechet returned to the states in the ‘30s and found work playing and performing but success on the record charts proved to be elusive for him while his past collaborators such as Armstrong and Duke Ellington were becoming superstars. In the ‘40s, Bechet returned to Europe and settled in France were he found fame as a hit-making musician.
Armstrong is credited by most historians for bringing forth the concept of the jazz soloist, but some experts contend that Bechet pioneered the concept in a recording studio mere months before Satchmo did so.
Bechet passed from lung cancer on his birthday in 1959 at the age of 62.
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