Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sidney Bechet the composer

It seems bizarre to me that the compositions of Sidney Bechet are not performed by jazz musicians more often today. Sure, there are a couple I have heard on a regular basis - Petite Fleur, Dans Les Rues D'Antibes - but many others are neglected, or perhaps even worse, performed only by Bechet imitators.

Now I love to hear someone grasp nobly for the same tone, power and vibrato that Bechet possessed. I truly believe that the musician as imitator has a few really valuable qualities, most notably acting as a publicity device for the original - drawing attention to a figure who might otherwise be overlooked. But it is the kiss of death for a composer.

Bechet wrote many fine compositions that have not been explored in the way they could be. Why doesn't someone revisit Blackstick, Southern Sunset, The Broken Windmill, Song of the Medina, Promenade Aux Champs-Elysees and his many other tunes with a new approach? Because they are too closely associated with the performing style of their composer. Bechet the musician has doomed Bechet the composer.

There are exceptions, of course - Bob Wilber focused on Bechet's compositions, not his playing style, in the group Bechet Legacy. But it's still soprano sax/clarinet at the forefront. I'd like to hear them done by a full big band, or a Hot Club style quintet, or a tenor saxophonist with rhythm section.

Here's Blues in the Air, a Bechet composition that could (should!) be played by jazz bands everywhere. Apparently the minor strain has been lifted from an operatic melody - W.C. Handy and others practiced 'tune collecting' in a similar fashion, so I've forgiven Sidney.


aroonie said...

Well said. And Bechet was a COMPOSER, rather than a song writer,for his compositions have form rather than the old AABA style. And don't forget "La Nuit Est Une Sorciere"

I have looked at many transcriptions and played most of them (badly!) for my own amusement and education and I haven't found one I do not like and that includes "Who'll Chop Your Suey When I'm Gone"!

rhythmoftheday said...

Great! Another favourite of mine is Bechet's Fantasy.

aroonie said...

Back again and I have traced the origin of the minor key second strain from Blues in The Air with the help of a friend in Sweden. It is from the overture to Raymond (1851) by Thomas. Have a listen some time.


JP Jazz, Milton Keynes said...

How about the Mezzrow-Bechet Quintet tune:'Where Am I?' an amazing little riff based on four chords that become more haunting as it progresses.
Is there a recording of 'The Broken Windmill' available?

rhythmoftheday said...

Thanks for the suggestion - I'm listening to 'Where Am I?' as I write, and it is indeed haunting.

The Bechet recording of 'Broken Windmill' is available on the following album:

Here is a recording of Evan Christopher and Tom McDermott playing a refreshingly original version:

Post a Comment