Editor, Webmaster:  Phil Cartwright       Editor@earlyjas.org
In Tune -- by Eric Seddon
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning for
Jazz Advancement and Socialization
EARLYJAS
Sidney Bechet with Tommy
L
adnier& His Orchestra  
November 28, 1938
Ja-Da, Really The Blues, When You and I Were Young, Maggie, Weary Blues
Tommy Ladnier, trumpet;  Sidney Bechet, soprano sax & clarinet
Mezz Mezzrow, clarinet & tenor sax; Cliff Jackson, piano
Teddy Bunn, guitar; Elmer James, bass; Manzie Johnson, drums


       
   Just a few weeks after his recording debut as a bandleader, Sidney Bechet
returned to the studio with his old friend, Louisiana born trumpeter Tommy
Ladnier, to cut some sides for RCA Bluebird label.
         According to John Chilton (pg 119) this band was hand picked
by Hughes Panassié , the French impressario and critic, who wanted to record top
notch American jazz musicians. He hunted down Tommy Ladnier, who was then
gigging halfway up the Hudson River in Newburgh, New York. Sidney Bechet had
to be given permission to record with the group by Irving Mills, and only on the
condition he wouldn't be billed as the leader. The resulting records were worth the
humility, as they are some of the finest trad jazz sides ever cut.    
        The enthusiasm is there right from the beginning of "Ja-Da." Cliff Jackson's
left hand is strong hinting at the boogie woogie craze about to blow, and the band
seems comfortable and happy to be together throughout the first choruses. Bechet
embellishes the head on soprano saxophone, but takes his solo chorus on clarinet,
an interesting contrast he was use steadily for the next several years.
         "Really the Blues" is a classic blues drag written by Mezz Mezzrow, the
feisty clarinetist whose later autobiography (bearing the same name as the tune)
was to make an early case against commercialism and big band era arrangements
while forcefully arguing in favor of black musicians and bands. On the head of this
tune, as the two clarinetists are playing together, it's Mezz who takes the lead line,
but when the solos come, we hear Bechet's soprano sax tell the story, delivering
vintage soul, the band murmuring assents throughout. The tune itself is excellent,
and as one of the first collaborations between Mezz and Bechet, it is important
historically.
        "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" is a light, toe tapping number
featuring Ladnier's trumpet lead, a competent chorus by Mezzrow on tenor, and
some ebullient clarinet work by Bechet to round out the cut. 
         The last track from this session, "Weary Blues" is one of the best known in
Bechet's clarinet catalog. From the outset, Sidney's musical voice is dominant
throughout, with Mezzrow shadowing in harmony, and Ladnier holding the mellow
line as usual. Bechet's clarinet solo opens with growling zest, then gets to wailing
with expertly controlled pitch bends--each idea unfolding naturally. The whole
session had the relaxed, joyous feel of musicians who understood each other and
wanted to work together.   
      Stylistically, though one could glean this from any number of recordings by
Bechet prior to this, these are excellent examples of Bechet's unique soloing style,
which was so much more than variations on a theme. His use of rhythm, meter,
playing over the bar, linking his phrases organically rather than through pattern
repetition, tend to be underappreciated, generally speaking, by many in the jazz
education field. The music, so far beyond conventional analysis, isn't easily taught
because it was so connected to Bechet's individual soul. But if our goal is lyricism
and originality, if a player wants to learn how to please and surprise an audience
simultaneously and consistently throughout a solo performance, recordings like
these will always be a template and guide.  
Further reading:
Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. John Chilton, OUP, NY (1987)