[Dixielandjazz] Southern Syncopated Orchestra - Tour in England Jazz? - Redux

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 22 19:17:28 PDT 2004

Here are some observations independent of the Ph.D. thesis that Kash so
nicely forwarded, about SSO in 1919 England.

Will Marion Cook's SSO was certainly an interesting orchestra. They
could not really be called a jazz band,  (27 musicians and 19 singers)
in the sense of ODJB. However among the classical tunes, rags, blues,
slave songs, etc., there was one jazz blues tune, played as a solo,
beautifully by a jazz man without peer at the time.

The tune, Characteristic Blues, the jazz man, Sidney Bechet who was a
side man in the band and the only one who could not read music.

Trumpeter James Briggs who was in the band said that very few songs in
the SSO's repertoire had anything to do with jazz and that Bechet was
the only real jazz improviser in the band. "We had various players who
could embellish melodies and play variations in the symphonic style, and
we also had musicians who could re-interpret a melody with ragtime
phrasing, but Bechet
could and did play pure jazz and blues. He was sensational , and I think
he could improvise jazz on any sort of theme, whether classical or
not."  (From a conversation with musician/author John Chilton, Jan 3,

Also, Swiss Conductor Eugene Ansermet heard the SSO in London several
times. In an October 19, 1919 edition of Revue Romande (maybe the first
serious and skillful jazz review ever printed, according to Chilton)
Ansermet waxes eloquently:

He comments on blue notes, various harmonies, a whole new series of
effects, etc. and then writes this about Bechet.
"There is in the Southern Syncopated Orchestra an extraordinary clarinet
virtuoso who is, so it seems, the first of his race to have composed
perfectly formed blues on the clarinet. I've heard two of them which he
had elaborated at great length, then played to his companions so that
they could make up accompaniment. Extremely difficult, they are equally
admirable for their richness of invention, force of accent and daring in
novelty and the unexpected. Already they gave the idea of style and
their form was gripping, abrupt, harsh, with a brusque and pitiless
ending like that of Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto. I wish to set
down the name of this artist of genius; as for myself, I shall never
forget it, it is Sidney Bechet . . . What a moving thing it is to meet
this very black fat boy with white teeth and that narrow forehead, who
is very glad one likes what he does, but who can say nothing of his art,
save that he follows 'his own way', and then one thinks that this 'own
way' is perhaps the highway the whole world will swing along tomorrow."

At the same time in England, the ODJB was cackling like Chickens and
Whinnying like horses with their then hokum Barnyard Blues (Livery
Stable), now viewed by "purists" as serious art.  ;-) VBG.

Also interesting is that late in 1919 a small part of SSO plus Bechet
formed "The Jazz Kings" which was definitely a jazz band. He always
claimed that he recorded 8 sides for Columbia with this band, but I
don't think any evidence of that has ever turned up. The band was:
Bechet (clt), Fred Coxcito (alto sax), George Smith (violin), Pierre de
Caillaux (piano), Henry Saparo (banjo) and Benny Peyton (drums)

BECHET, not only the first jazz soloist of any import but arguably the
most inventive during the early years.

Steve Barbone

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