Life changed in a big way for Jacques Gauthe after he met jazz great Sidney Bechet in 1950. The elder saxophonist and clarinetist from New Orleans became the French teenager's mentor and friend. Bechet patiently answered all of the questions Gauthe's curious young mind could dream up and he allowed the youth to visit his Paris home frequently, if not daily, as he encouraged the boy's musical journey. It was a journey that would lead Gauthe to Bechet's jazz-loving Louisiana hometown almost two decades later, and there he would make his home and become a solid force on the city's jazz scene for years to come.
A native of Gascony, France, Gauthe first showed an interest in music when he was five years old. He took lessons to learn how to play the piano and he also studied solfeggio. Born in 1939, he was just a child as World War II drew to a close, yet that was when he first found on his radio the musical genre in which he would perform his life's work: jazz. At the age of 11, he started playing the clarinet. He discovered the magic of Bechet in concert during a trip to see family members in Paris. Gauthe became a professional musician not long after he saw Bechet play when he was 14 years old. His career choice brought him into professional contact with Bechet and other jazz and blues musicians of the era, among them Mezz Mezzrow, Albert Nicholas, Memphis Slim, and Benny Waters. Beginning in 1953, Gauthe was a bandleader, and when he was 18, he toured the country with the Old Time Jazz Band of Toulouse. The band's members included Nicholas, Lucky Thompson, and Don Byass, among others. Gauthe and his band played the San Sebastian Jazz Festival and took top prize. They also appeared at Paris' Jazz Band Ball for a handful of years.
The young leader left his band and France in 1968 when he settled in New Orleans, the city of Bechet's birth. The talent that Bechet encouraged and nurtured in Gauthe quickly found the transplanted Frenchman a spot among the city's jazz musicians. Soon Gauthe had a spot in the Kid Thomas Band and he was playing at Preservation Hall. Later he established a band of his own, the Creole Rice Jazz Band. He also played with other groups, among them the Razzberry Ragtimers, the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Band, and the Classic Jazz Orchestra. Gauthe's many recordings include a tribute to his idol. Issued in 1997, Echoes of Sidney Bechet marked the 100th anniversary of the jazz master's birth.