Jazz Classics Vol. 1

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Blue Note
WORKS: jazz
PERFORMER: Sidney Bechet
CATALOGUE NO: CDP 7 89384 2

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Bechet was one of the first great soloists in jazz. Together with Louis Armstrong he arrived at a stirringly dramatic way of solo playing that leapt out of the collective polyphony of New Orleans ensembles. Bechet and Armstrong almost double-handedly changed the way jazz was viewed by transforming it from the collective improvisational conventions that had dominated the music up to the early Twenties into an art in which the soloist was paramount. The two volumes of Jazz Classics, recorded 1939-51, contain some of Bechet’s most famous work.

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‘Summertime’ from 1939 and ‘Blue Horizon’ from 1944, where he plays soprano saxophone and clarinet respectively, are in essence simple diatonic performances. Here, at delicately slow tempos, he uses a few carefully chosen notes to maximum effect by bending them in a manner often described as highly sensual. These are performances that remain imprinted on the memory. Bechet’s ensemble playing was equally riveting; he played in a way that insisted the trumpet lead should play at the peak of his abilities or be obliterated. Here Frankie Newton, Sidney De Paris and Bunk Johnson fight for survival and generally remain unscathed, making for some powerful jazz. Stuart Nicholson