Jazz master Sidney Bechet was born on this day in 1897.

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It’s odd enough that Sidney Bechet was born and died on the same day (May 14, 1897 – May 14, 1959). A jazz innovator of the founding school, Bechet also excelled at playing the strange and generally lesser used soprano saxophone. This links him with latter day “modern” jazz great John Coltrane, whose 1960s recordings find him exploring the instrument.

The Sidney Bechet Society tells all.

Who was the New Orleans jazz pioneer who did most to make this music a unique art form? When this question is asked, the name of Louis Armstrong invariably comes to mind, and rightly so. But there is another jazz musician whose name deserves to be coupled with Armstrong as the greatest of the New Orleans Jazz players. His name is Sidney Bechet.

By all accounts except his own, Bechet was of mercurial and disputatious temperament. Being compelled to perform mediocre songs like “Dear Old Southland” (above) while in the employ of Noble Sissle cannot have helped, but although the vocal and lyrics are cringeworthy, Bechet’s majestic playing absolutely dominates the record.

On this gently swinging version of “Save It Pretty Mama” from circa 1940, Bechet is joined by an all-star lineup:

Double Bass – John Lindsay
Drums – Baby Dodds
Piano – Earl Hines
Soprano Saxophone – Sidney Bechet
Trumpet – Rex Stewart

I could go on all day. The lesson for me is that in times of stress and villainy, old-school jazz chases away the black dog. Happy birthday to Sidney Bechet. He may have been a handful personally, but he produced lovely music.

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