Covering the years 1931-1940 and packed with informative liner notes as well as a detailed discography, this four-CD chronological tribute to New Orleans master clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet places his essential work in context within a remarkably diverse weave of collaborations with some of the best jazz musicians active in the decade preceding the Second World War. Bechet's recording career may be delineated into four periods; his primal sessions with Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams (1923-1925); his variegated career as leader and sideman during the '30s; his pivotal role at the heart of the New Orleans Revival during the '40s, and his triumphant domination of the traditional jazz scene in Paris during the '50s. Bechet's second period -- carefully documented on this compilation -- contains without a doubt the most stylistically varied recordings in his entire oeuvre. Forget what uptight critics and historians say about Sidney Bechet's personality, behavior, or choice of material. Let the music be your guide. Each and every one of these 97 tracks is a precious piece of the panoramic mosaic called jazz.
Sidney Bechet struggled through the '30s along with millions of other good folks. Despite his groundbreaking work as one of the primary innovators in early jazz, Bechet really had to scuffle during the Great Depression; when musical work became scarce he opened and operated the Southern Tailor Shop in partnership with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier at St. Nicholas Avenue and West 128th Street in Harlem, U.S.A. Bechet maintained a pot of gumbo in the back room, where impromptu jam sessions were also held. Ladnier and Bechet are heard together in the first half-dozen of 26 recordings issued under the name of Eubie Blake's vaudeville partner Noble Sissle, with lots of vocals by the leader himself as well as Billy Banks, Lavaida Carter, drummer O'Neill Spencer and 18-year-old Lena Horne. The Sissle sides represent most of Bechet's recording activity between the years 1931 and 1938.
Bechet's New Orleans Feetwarmers made their first records as a unit on September 15, 1932. These amazing performances, particularly the riotous "Maple Leaf Rag" and "Shag," are definitive examples of authentic jazz sprouted directly from the taproot of the tradition. In 1938 Bechet's bands backed blues singer Trixie Smith and the vaudeville team of Leola "Coot" Grant and Wesley "Kid" or "Sox" Wilson. 1938 is also important for a fine date involving baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres and a Mezz Mezzrow-infused session conducted under Tommy Ladnier's nominal leadership. Sadly, Ladnier was already seriously ill; he succumbed to arteriosclerosis on June 4, 1939. Four days later, with a heartfelt "Blues for Tommy" and a gut-wrenching version of "Summertime," Sidney Bechet participated as both a leader and a member of the Port of Harlem Seven in what is now considered to have been the inauguration of the Blue Note record label. He also collaborated with pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith in the making of 13 wonderful West Indian-styled recordings issued as by "The Haitian Orchestra," and sat in with Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Jazzmen. 1940 was a glorious year for Bechet; he collaborated with folk/blues vocalist Josh White, made excellent records with Muggsy Spanier, stood his ground during a reunion session with Louis Armstrong, and presided over several more superb editions of the Feetwarmers.