Monday, December 12, 2011

"Wild Cat Blues"

Hey folks, it’s a musical Monday morning here on Robert Frost’s Banjo—this week’s edition of the Monday Morning Blues!  We’re back with our monthly installment of the Jazz Me Blues series, which looks at (& listens to) various points where the blues & jazz genres meet.

When you’re talking about the great early jazz soloists, one of the first names that must come to mind—perhaps the first name after that of Louis Armstrong—is Sidney Bechet.  In fact, if one looks at the recorded history, Bechet actually beat Armstrong to the punch with some of his 1923 sides with Clarence Williams’ Blues Five (a group that also featured Armstrong’s cornet playing.) 

For those who may be less familiar with Bechet (whose name is usually pronounced  buh-SHAY, tho it reportedly is pronounced BAH-shay by the family), he was born in New Orleans in 1897 to a Creole family.  Sidney Bechet was a prodigy, first performing with his brother’s band at age six, & performed with such New Orleans luminaries as Bunk Johnson, King Oliver & Freddie Keppard in his teens, even touring as far north as Chicago.  Sidney Bechet’s instruments were the clarinet & the soprano sax.  In fact, prior to Coltrane, Bechet was probably the most noteworthy jazz performer on the latter instrument.  Bechet’s style on both instruments was passionate, & he favored a broad vibrato tone—a characteristic that has made listeners tend to form strong opinions either favorable or unfavorable about his sound; but he most certainly made a huge mark on jazz history along the way.

“Wild Cat Blues” comes from a 1923 recording by Clarence Williams Blues Five made for Okeh.  The band for the session was Sidney Bechet (soprano sax), Thomas Morris (cornet), John Maysfield (trombone), Clarence Williams (piano), & Buddy Christian (banjo).  The song, which was composed by the great Thomas “Fats” Waller & Clarence Williams, isn’t technically a blues at all—it features four separate 16-bar patterns rather than the conventional 12-bar pattern of blues, & the structure owes more to formal rags.  However that may be, "Wild Cat Blues" is a fine example of hot jazz, with the typical New Orleans polyphony forming a basis from which Bechet’s solo can soar up & away, & soar he does!

This ought to chase your blues away—enjoy!


  1. Ahhhh! Sidney Bechet; a legend! I was a faithful listener to the late Ray Smith's Sunday night show on WGBH radio out of Boston, The Jazz Decades, which featured early jazz previous to the era when Diz and Bird turned the jazz world upside down - New Orleans, Hot Jazz, and big band jazz. Bechet was a regularly featured artist on the show. It's always good to hear him early on a Monday morning.

  2. Hi Roy: Thanks! Now that sounds like a fun radio show indeed. I love hot jazz. I do think I'm going to post some more recent folks in this series come the new year however--despite the series title, I don't want the jazz/blues interface to be a moldy fig!


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