On this day in 1923, jazz pioneer Sidney Bechet cuts his first record, featuring “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Blues.”
Bechet was born in New Orleans in 1897. Like his four brothers, Bechet began playing music at an early age. Having learned clarinet at age six, he was playing with local bands by his early teens. In New Orleans, Chicago, and later New York, Bechet worked with early jazz stars that admired his swinging rhythms and aggressive improvisations. In 1919, he toured Europe with the Southern Syncopated Orchestra. In Europe, he swapped his clarinet for a soprano saxophone, which he played for the rest of his career.
Bechet alternated between European tours and stints in New York during the early 1920s. He worked with Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1924, and although his combative personality and incurable tardiness led to his leaving the band after just a few months, the band absorbed much of Bechet’s style. In 1925, Bechet briefly opened his own jazz club, Club Basha, and hired saxophone player Johnny Hodges, whom he deeply influenced. Hodges later became a key member of Ellington’s band and infused Bechet’s style more deeply into the band. In 1924 and 1925, Bechet made several recordings with fellow New Orleans jazzman Louis Armstrong.
In the early 1930s, Bechet’s career languished, but a revival of the New Orleans style of jazz gave his career a boost in the late ’30s and early ’40s. In 1951, Bechet settled in Europe, where he was treated with great esteem as an American jazz legend.