14 May 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, d. 14 May 1959, Paris, France. A major figure in early jazz, an outstanding clarinettist, and for decades the only performer of consequence on soprano saxophone, Sidney Bechets career began in 1909. During the next few years he played clarinet in bands led by legendary musicians such as Buddy Petit, John Robichaux and Bunk Johnson. By 1917 Bechet had left New Orleans behind, both literally and musically, visiting Europe in 1919 as a member of Will Marion Cooks orchestra. While in London during this tour, Bechet purchased a straight soprano saxophone and eventually achieved mastery over this notoriously difficult instrument, thus becoming the first real jazz saxophonist. Bechets European trip was a mixed affair: he received rave reviews, including one (much quoted) from the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, and was briefly imprisoned in London after a fracas with a prostitute. Back in the USA, Bechet worked...
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