After he left his native New Orleans as a teenager, the great clarinetist and, later, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet for decades toured widely in the United States and Europe. He was respected for his originality and powerful playing, but he tired of struggling to make a consistent living in the US and moved to Paris in 1950, when he was 53. He found steady work in France and quickly became a national celebrity. A film running on YouTube, L’ Historire De Sidney Bechet, suggests his omnipresence in French cultural life and the extent of his fame in that country.
In the video, there are glimpses of well known French musicians and entertainers, a few Americans including Eddie Condon, Shorty Sherock, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Chubby Jackson and—in a couple of frames that give “cameo appearance” new meaning—Charlie Parker. We see Parker and bassist Jackson in a short clip in the studio of WPIX-TV in New York. We don’t hear him. All of the music is Bechet dubbed into the film sequence.
Any newly discovered film of Parker is valuable. The problem is, the scene is dark and goes by so fast that unless you were told it was Parker, you would need Superman vision to catch him. So, the Rifftides technical staff sprang into action, snagged a still frame and worked a bit of digital magic to brighten it and give it better focus. The result, seen on the left, is Parker pictured as a pointillist like Seurat might have painted him.
Now that you know what to watch for at 1:51, here’s the Bechet tribute.
Sidney Bechet died in Paris in 1959 at the age of 62. The Sidney Bechet Society helps to keep his legacy alive.