Sidney Bechet was truly a giant of jazz, who ranks with Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke as one of the supreme jazz soloists and improvisors of the 1920s. Duke Ellington called him "the very epitome of jazz," and the great Swiss conductor Ernst Ansermet described him as "an extraordinary carinet virtuoso," an "artist of genius." He also lived an extremely colorful life, and now the acclaimed jazz critic John Chilton offers the first full-length biography of this remarkable figure.
Always a man about town, the debonair Bechet could be a honey-voiced, soft-spoken charmer, but he also had a fiery temper and a suspicious streak that bordered on paranoia. And he usually carried a gun. Chilton vividly recounts Bechet's tempestuous life and the vibrant music he created. He describes his childhood in New Orleans, and his first jobs in Chicago and New York...his trip to London with the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, where he played at the Philharmonic Hall and Buckingham Palace, and was later deported for brawling with two prostitutes...his early great recordings, including the remarkable sessions with Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams...his return to France and his friendship with the colorful pilot Eugene Bullard, called "the Black Sparrow of Death" for his exploits in World War I...his gunfight with Mike McKendrick on a Paris street, for which he was imprisoned and again deported...his classic recordings for Blue Note Records...his brief affair and friendship with Tallulah Bankhead...and his triumphant return to Paris in the late 1940s, where he was lionized by the French public.
Chilton's meticulously researched narrative captures this dramatic life in fascinating detail, correcting many inaccuracies about Bechet, including those contained in Bechet's own Treat It Gentle, a highly poetic but often exaggerated life story. But equally important, Chilton offers a thoughtful appraisal of this great musician's work, examining all his surviving records. "His interpretation of the blues is timeless," Chilton concludes, "and all of his work contains a passion that should never be absent from jazz."show more