Monday, May 14, 2012

Music Monday ~ Wild & Wonderful: Sydney Bechet

On this day in 1897, to a Creole shoemaker and his wife in New Orleans, Sydney Bechet was born. He was surrounded by the music of New Orleans from his first breath. He began playing clarinet around age 6. By the time he was 17 he'd played in many well-known local bands. He later swapped clarinet for soprano-saxophone....he was to become, along with Louis Armstrong first of the great American jazz soloists. When Bechet and Armstrong arrived on the scene jazz was still in its infancy, far from the soloists' artform it was set to become. Bechet and Armstrong were the avant garde.

A snip from Ken Burns' excellent TV/DVD series "Jazz"
By the 1920’s jazz had become truly a national music, dominated by great personalities who lived life with a vengeance. The details are often astonishing. New Orleans saxophonist Sidney Bechet was a musical genius, a megalomaniac, and a man with a violent temper. Before 1925, Marsalis tells us, only Bechet could share the bandstand with Armstrong without embarrassing himself. By age 22 he had served a prison term in England for a violent altercation with a prostitute.

When he came to Harlem he confronted saxophonist Coleman Hawkins for his disparaging remarks about New Orleans musicians. He played so fiercely in Hawkins’ direction that Hawkins ran off the bandstand, out of the building and down the street with Bechet right behind him, blowing his soprano saxophone all the while. Years later while touring Europe Bechet pulled a pistol on a French piano player who had disputed Bechet’s reading of a chord change. “Sidney Bechet does not make mistakes,” he told him, and challenged him to a gunfight. The result was a shoot out in the streets of Paris at rush hour. Bechet wounded three people, none of them his adversary, and went to prison for his deed, though he was released and deported less than a year later.
I'm interested to see whether his antagonistic temperament shows up in his natal chart. The version below is set for 12 noon as birth time isn't known.

I don't have far to seek! Saturn and Uranus exactly conjoined at 27 Scorpio harmoniously trine (120*) Mars at 27 Cancer and directly oppose his natal Sun at 24 Taurus. How to best describe this minus astro-jargon? Cat and dog fighting both see a bird and while continuing to brawl between themselves, chase it too.

If born after 4:00 PM Moon would have been in Mars-ruled Scorpio adding a further helping of intensity to his nature. If born earlier in the day, Moon in Libra (ruled by Venus as is his Taurus Sun) would feed into his early gravitation to music.

Gershwin's Summertime played by Sydney Bechet

Woody Allen's recent movie Midnight in Paris begins with a series of shots of scenic Paris set to Sidney Bechet’s lovely “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere.” Bechet’s connection to Paris began in the 1920s, when the city was a magnet for Western culture and home to many, now famous, expatriate black Americans fleeing from their county's toxic racism.

Si Tu Vois Ma Mere (translation:”If You See My Mother”…aka “I Remember When”) was composed by Bechet, reportedly after the death of his mother.

Another of Bechet's own compositions Petite Fleur


Wisewebwoman said...

Not a very nice man but he does an amazing job on Petite Fleur and for that we thank you Sydney.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ From what I've read, many of the musicians, jazz and big band, of that era were brilliant artists but not so brilliant human beings.

In the case of black musicians, I guess that the racism they encountered in the USA left scars, in the case of white musicians - perfectionism or just over-the-top wildness was the some rock musicians these days.

anyjazz said...

A fine piece about one of Jazz Music's wildest innovators. There are only a few legends such as Buddy Bolden, that precede Bechet and Armstrong, but unfortunately there are no recordings of them. So we credit Bechet and Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and others with “inventing” jazz when actually, they just polished what has become known as “Traditional Jazz” or Dixieland. Bechet was already taking it in a fresh direction.

It is difficult to put our modern minds into the late 1920’s enough to understand that these historical early recordings were the pop music of the time. Today we think of pop music as a sort of throw-away art style that may last a week or two. We still listen to Bechet now, seventy years later.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~~ Thank you for your input aj - always valued and on point.