Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|In Tune -- by Eric Seddon
Sweet Lorraine, Lazy River, China Boy, Four or Five Times
That's A Plenty, Squeeze Me, Sweet Sue
If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)
Sidney Bechet, clarinet, soprano sax; Muggsy Spanier, trumpet;
Carmen Mastren, guitar; Wellman Braud, bass
In one of those remarkable moments of cross pollination often experienced by musicians,
but rarely captured at the precise moment of brilliance in the recording studio, European
Gypsy Jazz once had a direct impact upon one of jazz history's founding fathers. The date
was March 28, 1940, the idea Stephen Smith's: to pair Bechet and Spanier with a gypsy
rhythm section (bass and guitar without drums) and see what happened when they were given
the opportunity to swing a la Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France (Chilton, 126).
The result was some of the most compelling recordings of any era, and certainly among the
finest of Bechet's stellar career.
For a clarinetist, one of the great advantages of Gypsy Jazz is the lower overall volume
of the group. Because there are no drums or piano, it's easier for the clarinet to project
clearly, without forcing, in any register of the instrument, at any dynamic level. Bechet takes
advantage of this, on both clarinet and soprano sax, switching back and forth sometimes in
the same tune. On "That's A Plenty" for example, he lays down what is certainly one of the
finest clarinet solos on the tune, then picks up his sax and gives a definitive saxophonic
One of the myths surrounding Bechet was that he more or less abandoned the clarinet
unless it was demanded by a trumpet player for a more "legitimate" revivalist purpose. Among
other things, these remarkable recordings demonstrate that Bechet used clarinet and
saxophone according to his vocal and timbral needs, and that the clarinet wasn't exactly
supplanted by the soprano sax. When he wants low chalumeau underlining, for instance, he
doesn't hesitate to use the clarinet on "Lazy River." The tunes are dominated by saxophone,
but nowhere else in Bechet's catalogue is it more clear that he chose based upon expressive
needs of each situation.
The titles listed above are, so far as I can tell, the only tunes recorded by the
Bechet-Spanier Big Four.
Chilton, John. Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, Oxford University Press, NY, 1987.
|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning for
Jazz Advancement and Socialization
The Sidney Bechet/Muggsy Spanier Big Four