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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
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Sidney Bechet (1870 - 1924)
Sidney Bechet Sidney Bechet, one of the great jazz musicians of all time, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in May 1897. He was a Creole of color, a member of a black community that traced its roots back to the French, Spanish, and Caribbean culture that characterized the city before Louisiana became part of the United States. The Bechets were a musical family; the father was a shoemaker who played the flute and Sidney's brother played the clarinet and trombone, while Sidney took to the clarinet. His extraordinary musical abilities were evident by the time he was ten.
"The music makes a voice, and, no matter what happens, the man that cares to hear that voice, he can hear it." Sidney Bechet
As he entered his teens, he was drawn to the music he heard in the dance halls and brothels of Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans. He began to play in local bands, including those of Jack Carey and Buddy Petit. His playing so impressed the legendary cornet player Bunk Johnson that Johnson invited Bechet to join his band. Bechet played in dance halls, at picnics, and at parties.

In 1919 Will Marion Cook asked him to join his Southern Syncopated Orchestra for an engagement in London, England. It was there that the famous Swiss conductor, Ernst Ansermet, who conducted the music of Stravinsky for the Ballet Russes, heard Bechet play the clarinet and praised him as a "genius." While in London, Bechet mastered the soprano saxophone, the instrument that he would principally play for the rest of his life. Along with Louis Armstrong, Bechet was one of the first musicians to improvise with jazz-swing feeling.

Sidney Bechet Disgusted with the racism he encountered in the United States, he spent much of his career in Europe, especially France. He played with several bands in Europe and the United States, and in 1932 formed his own band, the New Orleans Feetwarmers, with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. When the band dissolved, Bechet and Ladnier decided to open a dry cleaning shop in Harlem. The Dixeland revival of the 1940s resurrected Bechet's career, as critics once again extolled his pioneering contributions to jazz. He returned to Europe where he was praised and idolized. During the latter part of his life, Bechet lived in France and wrote a number of songs that were inspired by his love for that country. By the time of his death he received honors and recognition granted only to the greatest French artists.

Disgusted with the racism he encountered in the United States, he spent much of his career in Europe, especially France. He played with several bands in Europe and the United States, and in 1932 formed his own band, the New Orleans Feetwarmers, with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. When the band dissolved, he and Ladnier decided to open a dry cleaning shop in Harlem. The Dixeland revival of the 1940s resurrected Bechet's career, as critics once again extolled his pioneering contributions to jazz. He returned to Europe, where he was praised and idolized. During the latter part of his life, Bechet lived in France and wrote a number of songs that were inspired by his love for that country. By the time of his death he received honors and recognition granted only to the greatest French artists.

--Richard Wormser

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Bechet was briefly a member of an early incarnation of Duke Ellington's orchestra, the Washingtonians.
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