Personnel: Sidney Bechet (soprano saxophone, clarinet); Sidney De Paris, Bunk Johnson, Jonah Jones (trumpet); Wild Bill Davison (cornet); Vic Dickenson, Sandy Williams, Bob Diehl, Jimmy Archey (trombone); Albert Nicholas (clarinet); Meade Lux Lewis, Art Hodes, Cliff Jackson, Joe Sullivan, Buddy Weed (piano); Teddy Bunn (guitar); Johnny Williams, Pops Foster, Walter Page (bass); Sid Catlett, Manzie Johnson, Fred Moore, Danny Alvin, Slick Jones, Johnny Blowers (drums).
Producer: Alfred Lion
Compilation producer: Michael Cuscuna.
Recorded between 1939 & 1953. Includes liner notes by Dan Morgenstern.
Sidney Bechet was one of the key figures in the development of jazz. His early recorded work (some of which predates Louis Armstrong) shows a soloist in full command of his medium, employing a powerful, vibrato-rich tone in both his clarinet and soprano sax work (he pioneered the latter as a solo instrument). Oddly, Bechet's name remained largely unknown until recordings with Blue Note in the late '30s, '40s and '50s helped boost his public profile, beginning with his extremely popular 1939 version of "Summertime" (the opening track on this album). Here, his soprano sax unfurls the melody with the skill of a snake charmer.
The rest of the compilation covers the whole of Bechet's Blue Note tenure, primarily with ensembles of five or six musicians, and provides ample evidence of his strengths as a soloist and group improviser. Alfred Lion's fine production gives a sheen to such jazz classics as "St. Louis Blues," "Muskrat Ramble," "Basin Street Blues," and the masterfully soulful "Blue Horizon," possibly the album's highlight. The mode throughout is early 20th century New Orleans jazz, flavored with Dixieland and swing, and sparkling with Bechet's impeccable musicianship.