Disc 1 (1923-1941) Playing time: 78m. 39s.
1. Petite Fleur*
2. Wild Cat Blues
3. Kansas City Man Blues
4. Sweetie Dear
5. Maple Leaf Rag
6. Dear Old Southland
9. Really the Blues
10. Weary Blues
12. High Society
13. Indian Summer
14. Sweet Lorraine
15. China Boy
16. Four or Five Times
17. Perdido Street Blues
18. Shake It and Break It
19. Wild Man Blues
20. Old Man Blues
21. Blues in Thirds
22. Ain’t Misbehavin’
23. Egyptian Fantasy*
24. The Sheik of Araby
25. When It’s Sleepy Time down South
Disc 2 (1941-1953) Playing Time: 79m. 34s.
1. I’m Coming, Virginia
2. Strange Fruit
3. Blues in the Air*
4. Twelfth Street Rag
5. Mood Indigo
6. After You’ve Gone
7. St. Louis Blues
8. Blue Horizon*
9. Milenberg Joys
10. Days Beyond Recall*
11. Out of the Gallion
12. Blame It on the Blues
13. Old Stack o’ Lee Blues*
14. Buddy Bolden Stomp*
15. Where Am I?*
16. I’ve Found a New Baby
17. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
19. Black and Blue
20. Le Marchand de Poissons*
21. Si Tu Vois Ma Mère*
22. The Black Bottom
23. C Jam Blues
Among the many musicians and musical groups accompanying Bechet, who
plays soprano sax or clarinet, are the following:
Clarence Williams, Noble Sissle, Tommy Ladnier, Louis Armstrong, Bunk
Johnson, Mezz Mezzrow, Humphrey Lyttelton, Claude Luter; and, of course,
Bechet’s own New Orleans Feetwarmers, the latter having varying personnel
and size, from quartet to sextet.
All personnel, recording dates, and locations are given in the booklet.
Since this album is a “retrospective,” drawing from previously recorded and
issued material in the thirty year period 1923-1953, Bechet devotees will
undoubtedly already have all of the tracks on this double album; so its
appeal will be mainly to those with gaps in their collections or those
coming to Bechet for the first time.
As will become immediately obvious to anyone unfamiliar with Bechet, he was
a force to be reckoned with, easily overpowering many—perhaps most—of those
with whom he played. On soprano sax he had no equal, his command of that
instrument displaying awesome technique. His vibrato was pronounced, almost
a quivering, and his broad, powerful tone lent volume to the sound. As a
result he dominated the front line. It took a very strong trumpet or cornet
player to hold his ground with Bechet, but as one will hear in these CDs
some good trumpet players did manage to do that.
Frequently he went without any fellow front-liners, which allowed him to
indulge himself to the limit, the lead being entirely his. Quite often he
was backed by two or three players only, essentially Bechet plus rhythm, as
is often the form of his Feetwarmers. As might be surmised from this
dominating aspect of his performances, Bechet had a considerable ego, which
he indulged on stage and off. It can also be seen in the “one-man-band”
track, The Sheik of Araby, where thanks to multi-track
overdubbing, Bechet plays five instruments— soprano sax, tenor sax,
clarinet, piano, bass, and drums—with varying degrees of proficiency.
Featured are several Bechet compositions, perhaps the most famous being Petite Fleur [Little Flower], the opening track on vol.
1. Monty Sunshine (clarinet) with the Chris Barber band from the U.K.
recorded this tune in 1956, and it later went on to land among the top ten
of the hit parades in both the U.S. and the U.K. Other well-known Bechet
compositions, at least among traditional jazz bands, areLe Marchand de Poissons [The Fish Seller] and Si Tu Vois Ma Mère [If You See My Mother].
Bechet’s life** was a bit turbulent—in 1922 he was deported from England
after 11 days in jail for assaulting a prostitute; later he spent eleven
months in jail in Paris for shooting a woman, an act he claimed was
accidental as he meant to shoot a musician who had insulted .him, and he
was deported to New York in 1929. According to many who knew Bechet, his
manner was a little abrasive; so the gentleness, the tenderness, of Petite Fleur and of Si Tu Vois Ma Mère is somewhat
unexpected. Si Tu Vois Ma Mère may be seen as analogous to another
“mother allusion,” that of painter James McNeill Whistler’s Portrait of His Mother, something of a tribute, perhaps. It seems
that Bechet enjoyed a good relationship with his mother, who encouraged him
from a young age to pursue his musical bent. The French titles he gave his
compositions (others being Dans les Rues d'Antibes[In the Streets of Antibes] and Les Oignons [ The Onions], which are not included in this set) also may
be a nod to the last eight years of his life spent in Paris.
In spite of his being a difficult person to get along with but probably
because of his musical prowess, Bechet played with many of the jazz giants
of his day. In addition to those mentioned above, musicians such as Jelly
Roll Morton, “Big” Sid Catlett, Sidney de Paris, Zutty Singleton, Earl
Hines, J. C. Higginbotham, Rex Stewart, Henry “Red” Allen, Willie “The
Lion” Smith, Vic Dickenson, Pops Foster, Art Hodes, Wild Bill Davidson, and
so many others, appeared and recorded with Bechet, and all of them can be
found on one track or another in this two-volume set.
Bechet was “one of a kind.” He took the playing of the soprano sax to a
height never previously attained and perhaps not yet equaled. This
compilation—arguably his “Finest” forty-eight, as the title claims—provides
a very comprehensive overview of his accomplishments and gives support to
his deservedly holding a place in the jazz pantheon.
**Anyone wishing more details can find them in John Chilton’s Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz (N.Y., 1987). Another book
titled Treat It Gentle (London, 1962) is Bechet’s autobiography,
dictated to Al Rose. The title is rather ironic, and in the recounting
Bechet depicts himself as a kind, gentle individual, two qualities absent
from his character, according Rose: "The kindly old gentleman in his book
was filled with charity and compassion. The one I knew was self-centered,
cold, and capable of the most atrocious cruelty, especially toward women."
see also review by Glyn Pursglove