Friday, June 15, 2007

Blue Horizon, Sidney Bechet

Blue Horizon, Sidney Bechet and His Blue Note Jazzmen, December 30, 1944

Sidney de Paris, trumpet
Vic Dickenson, trombone
Sidney Bechet, clarinet
Art Hodes, piano
Pops Foster, string bass
Manzie Johnson, drums

Sidney Bechet is another New Orleans jazz artist; he started earlier than Louis Armstrong and also pioneered in the jazz idiom and, in particular, the jazz solo. This tour-de-force is one of the great instrumental blues masterpieces of all time. Although it was recorded in the forties, it derives from the jazz Bechet helped to create in the 1920s.

Listen to the fine tremolo Bechet brings out of his instrument. Like all great jazz musicians, Bechet can bring everything about a song, from the sound of his instrument to the melody itself, to the very edge, where it appears as if it might just break off, without losing control. You may not notice how sure-footed some people are until you see them prance nimbly around a cliff. Here Bechet is in command throughout the piece, which is practically all clarinet solo. Richard Hadlock recalls some musical advice Bechet gave him regarding how to produce a tone:

“I’m going to give you one note today,” he once told me. “See how many ways you can play that note—growl it, smear it, flat it, sharp it, do anything you want to it. That’s how you express your feelings in this music. It’s like talking.” (quoted in Ted Gioa, The History of Jazz, p. 50).

Throughout the history of jazz, vocals have been made to sound like instruments (recall Louis’s scat solo on Hotter Than That) and instruments have been made to sound like voices. There is no question of simple imitation here, but rather the instrument starts to sound as personal and emotive as a voice while retaining its own distinctive sound.

There are six blues choruses (A – F), each of 12 bars, constructed, as usual, of three sections of four bars.


A: a 0 – 12
a 13 – 27
b 28 – 41

B: a 42 – 57
a 58 – 1:11
b 1:12 – 1:24

C a 1:25 – 143
a 1:44 – 1:54
b 1:55 – 2:09

D a 2:10 – 2:20
a 2:21 – 2:37
b 2:38 - 2: 53

E a 2:54 – 3:08
a 3:09 – 3:23
b 3:24 – 3:37

F a 3:38 – 3:53
a 3 :54 – 4:08
b 4:09 – 4:25

For Sidney Bechet

by Philip Larkin

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares–

Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced

Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.