Sidney Bechet

Vol. 5: 1938-1939

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As is the case with most of the Masters of Jazz catalog, Sidney Bechet's 1938-1939, Vol.5 combines well-known favorites from the artist's studio output with rarities and live recordings to paint a vivid picture of what Bechet's professional and artistic progress sounded like over a 12-month period. The first four titles are among the few ever released under the name of trumpeter Tommy Ladnier during his lifetime. Ladnier, who was soon to be felled by arteriosclerosis, made a number of recordings with Bechet and clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow during his final months. On this occasion (November 28, 1938) the rhythm section consisted of pianist Cliff Jackson, guitarist Teddy Bunn, bassist Elmer James, and drummer Manzie Johnson. On December 23, Bechet and Ladnier performed at Carnegie Hall with trombonist Dan Minor, pianist James P. Johnson, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Jo Jones as the New Orleans Feetwarmers. The occasion was John Hammond's Spirituals to Swing concert. This little set complements the previous Ladnier-led studio date, and the two versions of Artie Matthews' "Weary Blues" compare nicely. On the much rarer end of the spectrum, a couple of excerpts from the soundtrack of Edward G. Ulmer's motion picture Moon Over Harlem feature Sidney Bechet & His Clarinet with a orchestra conducted by Donald Heywood, and Bechet with a drummer identified as Christopher Columbus & His Swing Crew. Two tracks mistitled "I Got Rhythm" bear no relation to the famous Gershwin standard, but are almost identical takes of a jive swing novelty apparently titled "Two for a Nickel, Four for a Dime" sung by Eva Sharpe with Jabbo Smith listed as the trumpeter. These were unissued test pressings engineered by someone at Baldwin Records, a little known enterprise for which Bechet would again record some ten months later (see below). The chronology's next two sessions are well-known and well-documented. Grieving the death of his longtime friend and collaborator Ladnier, Bechet recorded an emotionally charged "Blues for Tommy" and "Pounding Heart Blues" with a group christened by producer Alfred Lion as the Port of Harlem Seven (trumpeter Frankie Newton, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, pianist Meade "Lux" Lewis, guitarist Teddy Bunn, bassist Johnny Williams, and drummer Sid Catlett. "Summertime," which taps into primal resources of human feeling, was played by Bechet and the rhythm section. Each of these four-minute records exists near the beginning of the Blue Note catalog. On September 14, 1939, Jelly Roll Morton & His New Orleans Jazzmen recorded a set of staunchly traditional standards for Victor's Bluebird imprint. Morton played piano and sang "Buddy Bolden" and the narration on the two takes of "Didn't He Ramble" was by trombonist Claude Jones and drummer Zutty Singleton, respectively, with the rest of the lineup consisting of trumpeter Sidney de Paris, clarinetist Albert Nicholas, tenor saxophonist Happy Caldwell, guitarist Lawrence Lucie, and bassist Wellman Braud. On November 22, 1939 Bechet recorded again for Baldwin, this time with a group co-led by pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith and billed as "the Haitian Orchestra". The rest of the participants were trumpeter Kenneth Roane, bassist Olin Alderhold, and drummer Leo Warney. This collection's final five tracks represent a small portion of the Haitian Orchestra's total recorded output, and the remainder may be found at the beginning of Vol. 6 in this excellent series. Smith and Bechet's decision to devote this amount of energy and resources to music from a small island nation speaks volumes about their shared awareness of African-Caribbean-American traditions.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:55
2 3:38
3 2:43
4 3:02
6 2:03
7 2:39
8 2:23
9 0:59
11 2:36
12 2:38
13 4:26
14 4:13
16 3:11
17 3:01
18 2:48
19 3:13
20 3:10
21 3:08
22 2:39
23 2:28
24 2:22
25 2:36
26 2:20
blue highlight denotes track pick