Today is the birthday of jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). Bechet is considered one of the first important jazz soloists, and possibly the first important jazz saxophonist. A Creole from New Orleans, he started playing as a child in the band of his older brother, a trombone player. As jazz took off, he began to tour.
His career was tumultuous; he was deported from both England and France for his part in violent incidents. But he did get to work with the likes of Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Noble Sissle during the first wave of jazz. His low point was in the 1940s when there was so little demand for his talent he was forced to open a tailor shop. But he lived throughout the 1950s in France and was well-paid for playing there throughout the decade.
Now, here’s a remarkable thing: it isn’t labeled as such on Youtube (and it ought to be) but this 1941 version of “The Sheik of Araby” is one of the first examples of multi-track overdubbing — Bechet plays every instruments on the track: clarinet, drums, piano, bass, and tenor and soprano sax.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc