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’s First Recording
Session as a Bandleader
What a Dream; Hold Tight; Jungle Drums; Chant in the Night
Sidney Bechet, soprano sax & clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax
Dave Bowman, piano; Leonard Ware, guitar; Henry Turner, bass
Zutty Singleton, drums; Eddie Robinson & Willie Spottswood, vocals
                       November 6, 1938, New York City
       At the spry age of 41, Sidney Bechet finally had the opportunity to record as
a band leader. It had been a long six years since his last collaborative session
with Tommy Ladnier and their New Orleans Feetwarmers--a session which
produced several classic sides. This one would be different in many ways.
       Eschewing the standard instrumentation (which is, anyhow, not so standard
as some jazz histories would have us believe), the somewhat misleadingly
named Sidney Bechet and His Orchestra was actually a sextet consisting of Bechet
on clarinet and soprano sax, Ernie Caceres on baritone sax, Dave Bowman on
piano, Leonard Ware on guitar, Henry Turner on bass, Zutty Singleton on drums,
and a pair of vocalists (Eddie Robinson and Willie Spottswood, 'The Two
Fishmongers') featured on "Hold Tight."
       The band recorded four tunes that day, all of them originals. Three of them,
"What a Dream", "Chant in the Night" and "Jungle Drums", were composed by
Bechet. The vocal number "Hold Tight" was composed by Robinson, Spottswood,
Ware, Jerry Brandow, and Lenny Kent.       In his biography of Sidney Bechet,
John Chilton suggests this session, while bold, is one of Bechet's weaker one,
suffering from lack of rehearsal and less than stellar song material (pg 111-112). I
couldn't disagree more, and wish this band hand recorded twenty more sides of the
same quality. While Caceres isn't balanced, volume-wise in the recording with
Bechet (which might just have been an honest difference between the bari player
and the muscular sound of Bechet, accurately captured) the timbre and
counterpoint the two create is exciting, intriguing, and unique. Chilton wanted a
more standard type of climax to the tunes, and perhaps wishes for more melodic
content on a number like "Jungle Drums", but here, perhaps, we have the
difference between brass criticism and woodwind writing (Chilton himself, who
passed away last year, was a trumpet player). A careful review of combo jazz
tunes by clarinetists reveals a predisposition for motivic, linear melodies, repetitious
in an almost minimalist fashion. "Seven Come Eleven", "AC/DC Current",
"Benny's Bugle" by Benny Goodman; "When the Quail Come Back to San
Quentin", "Summit Ridge Drive", "Dr. Livingston, I Presume" by Artie Shaw; and
"Jungle Drums" by Sidney Bechet are all cut from a similar cloth.  It's perhaps not
a coincidence that John Adams, one of the more revered minimalist composers of
the last forty years, was a clarinetist.
       That aside "What a Dream" is a beautiful tune, and Bechet's soprano soloing
matches it. His clarinet on "Hold Tight" is vintage, excellent, and you can't go
wrong with his playing on the other tunes. As with so many of Bechet's early
projects (including the first incarnation of The New Orleans Feetwarmers and the
Clarence Williams Blue 5), we are left simultaneously wishing we had more, and
grateful for what he left us.

Further reading:   Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. John Chilton, OUP, NY
(1987)