[Dixielandjazz] Bechet's Main instrument.

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 14 14:55:13 PST 2007

Bechet was unique. He was a great clarinetist. Studied briefly, if you could
call it that, with Lorenzo Tio, (as did Jimmie Noone). Bechet also taught
Noone for a while when he was 13 and Noone 15.

He was arguably soloing in a band setting, better than, and before Louis
Armstrong later stunned the jazz world as an soloist. Louis was credited as
changing jazz from ensemble oriented to solo oriented, but Bechet got there

He was the first person to play Jazz on Soprano Saxophone. Just as Coleman
Hawkins did with the tenor, Bechet invented the jazz role for Soprano.

He mentored Alto Saxophonist Johnny Hodges (who admired him greatly) for a
while. Hodges was playing Soprano in Boston when he met Bechet who was
dating his older sister in the early 1920's. Hodges later played in the warm
up band for Bechet's in NYC before finally joining Ellington. You can hear
Bechet's influence in Hodges' playing.

Good question might be: "What was Hodges' main instrument? Similar situation
as he started on one (Sop) and then gravitated to another (Alto).

Bechet's soprano style is one that takes the place of cornet/trumpet in a
small OKOM jazz band. Many of his records are quintet with either trombone
or clarinet as the other horn plus rhythm. Once in a while, he would play in
a 6 piece setting with a forceful trumpet player like Armstrong or Wild Bill
Davison and the results were usually a careful dance around each other. He
was a lead player and guarded that role jealously.

In the late 30s or early 40s he appeared at Nick's in NYC with two electric
guitars in the rhythm section. One of the first jazz musicians to realize
the potential of that instrument in small band jazz.

Bechet: Innovator, master musician, genius etc., didn't read music and was
virtually self taught. Hell of a player.

His Main instrument? Well, his legacy is "Soprano", not unlike  Ellington's
main instrument legacy. (not Piano, but Orchestra)

Steve Barbone

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