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 the Port of Harlem   
June 8, 1939  Blue Note Records  
New York City
Blues for Tommy Ladnier
Summertime
Pounding Heart Blues


Frankie Newton, trumpet
J. C.  Higgenbotham, trombone
Sidney Bechet, soprano sax & clarinet
BechetPortHarlem
Meade Lux Lewis, piano
Teddy Bunn, guitar
Johnny Williams, bass
Sid Catlett, drums

      On June 4, 1939, Sidney Bechet's collaborator Tommy Ladnier died suddenly
of a heart attack at the age of 39. Like Bechet, Ladnier was a Louisiana native,
against the playing of "commercial" music, known to leave better paying gigs to
play the music he loved, and was attracted to the more colorblind European scene.
The French critic and jazz impressario, Hugues Panassié, when on a mission to
record real jazz in the United States, made a point of hunting him down in
Newburgh, New York to arrange a recording session with Sidney Bechet the year
before. Four days after Ladnier's death, Bechet went into the studio and cut the
very first of the Blue Note records which have become such a significant part of his
legacy. The Port of Harlem Seven would only have this one recording session
together, but it was to be meaningful.

      The first tune cut on the session was, appropriately, "Blues for Tommy
Ladnier." Frankie Newton's trumpet is mellow and balanced, his solo reflectively
sympathetic without becoming sentimental. Bechet too, offers his eulogy, with each
band member commenting in turn before bursting into an out chorus. It's then that
Newton finally allows some high notes to sound and Bechet's soprano shouts back
in concurrence. The feeling isn't so much of a dirge, but of a warm, heartfelt
glimpse into their appreciation of the man who had just left them.

      So much has been written about Bechet's recording of “Summertime” that
there is little to add. It's impossible to praise this moment in jazz history too highly.
Here is Bechet at zenith, his five heartbreaking choruses taking us deeper and
deeper into a southern sunset, and probing the themes associated with the song:
birth, death, resurrection, suffering, redemption. It's one of a handful of the most
important recordings of the twentieth century, a meditation that unites thought,
feeling, meaning, and soul as one.

      The last of that day's recorded triptych was "Pounding Heart Blues", a
traditional tune perhaps hinting, too, at Ladnier's death. The mood is solemn,
respectful, reflective, bringing to a close this important moment in recorded history.

      Tommy Ladnier playing was so soulful, he was nicknamed "The Praying
Cornet" during his lifetime. On this session, Bechet would leave us one of his most
heartfelt performances, bookended with emotionally solemn, yet warm hearted
remembrances.

      The Port of Harlem Seven were never to record under that name again, but
they made their permanent mark on jazz history that day.