While "passant blanc" might sound like an imported cheese, it is actually a Creole expression for black individuals who pass for white. This is a detail that inevitably comes up in the story of Achille Joseph Baquet. It was not really that unusual for black musicians to pass for white on the New Orleans music scene of 1915 and earlier. Partial to clarinets, the Baquet family's musical overlord was father Theogene Baquet, proficient on both clarinet and cornet and the first leader of the Excelsior Brass Band. Of the sons, George Baquet has the largest discography, having cut sides with both Jelly Roll Morton and Bessie Smith, among others. Harold "Hal" Bouquet is the most notorious, having been stabbed to death. And then there's Achille Baquet who, as has been established, passed for white.
He was the only member of the family who was known for this lifestyle. Both he and George Baquet studied under legendary clarinetist Louis "Papa" Tio. Of Mexican descent, Tio and other talented members of his family were great influences on the music of New Orleans, credited with tossing in a dash of syncopated Latin rhythms. Achille Baquet developed into a fine saxophonist as well as clarinetist. The groups he played in included the Original Dixieland Jass Band, founded by drummer Johnny Stein and also featuring the noseworthy pianist and vocalist Jimmy Durante. This quartet also worked as the Original New Orleans Jazz Band and the New Orleans Jazz Band. Baquet also played with Papa Jack Laine's Reliance Orchestra, also known as Papa Jack Laine's Reliance Brass Band, and was part of the clarinet section of the Happy Schilling Dance Orchestra, a group whose name sounds like Austrian coins triumphing over the euro.
Then there is the Whiteway Jazz Band, to pick open a sore subject. Baquet might have been part of this group, too, why not? The only problem is, jazz scholars have never actually figured out who was in the Whiteway Jazz Band, let alone how many of them might have just been passing for white. It is thought to be yet another secret recording identity for Durante and his pals, most likely to dodge any trouble they could have gotten into for cutting a song entitled "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me." Baquet's music lives on through the songs he did take credit for, and others for which he didn't. He and Durante co-wrote the excellent "Why Cry Blues," while it is Achille Baquet and Acide "Yellow" Nunez who are thought to be the actual composers of New Orleans jazz standard "Livery Stable Blues; Nunez sometimes gets credit on recordings, Baquet almost never. Between 1905 and 1910, the Baquet brothers were among the top players in New Orleans, influencing Sidney Bechet and many others.