Wild Cat Blues
One fine day in New Orleans back before 1910, a band was playing a party in someone's house. From another room they suddenly heard someone playing a wicked clarinet along with the band. I turned out that little Sidney Bechet had picked up his brother's clarinet and just taught himself how to play, that's all!
Bechet kicked around New Orleans in the teens with the rest of the musicians, most of whom, as Louis Armstrong describes in his book My Life In New Orleans, had day jobs. But by the end of the teens things had changed - jazz had become big business, and, ironically, all of the best jazz musicians had left New Orleans. Sidney Bechet was touring Europe with a band, and came across a soprano saxophone one afternoon in a pawnshop in England.
He had always had a ferocious lip, a supernaturally powerful tone, and a scintillating vibrato wide enough to frame the sistine chapel. He also had a nasty temper and tended to get into fights. After one such fracas he was persuaded to leave Europe for a while, so he came back to the United States for a few years, recording this and a few other sides. Discographers joke that he is one band member who can never be mistaken when there is little other information about a rare record: that tone could only be Sidney!
During the 20s and 30s he was in and out of the United States, but soon he settled in France, where he became a national treasure. His innate sense of musical drama, in addition to his tone, sustained many more decades of performing there, and he lived like an aristocrat. He belongs on the roll of true and original New Orleans Jazz geniuses.