Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Bechet's Birthday

"Bechet. The greatest of all originators, Bechet, the symbol of jazz… I consider Bechet the foundation. His things were all soul, all from the inside. It was very, very difficult to find anyone who could really keep up with him. He’d get something organized in his mind while someone else was playing and then he’d play one or two choruses---or more---that would be just too much.”
Duke Ellington, reflecting on hearing Bechet for the first time after his return to the United States in 1922 (quoted by Collier). 


Today is the 117th anniversary of the birth of Sydney Bechet. In an essay entitled "The Rise of Individualism and the Jazz Solo" from his book Jazz: The American Theme Song, the sometimes dubious James Lincoln Collier argues that Bechet was the initial impetus---albeit not ultimately the strongest and most widely acknowledged one---for jazz becoming a soloist's music by the end of the 1920s. Collier: 

“…why is he not today recognized as the first true jazz soloist? The answer is quite simple: from 1919 to 1922, when jazz was washing out of the honky-tonks and vice districts into the mainstream, and drawing to it thousands of aspiring musicians looking for models to emulate, Bechet was in Europe. Interest in jazz there at the time was virtually nonexistent… Had Bechet been in the United States in those years…he would have become the central figure in jazz, the position Louis Armstrong would hold by the end of the 1920s.” 

An older post on Bechet, Coltrane, and opera is here

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