Sidney Bechet: Treat It Gentle; the Lift and Times of a Jazz Master

By Yudkin, Jeremy | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Sidney Bechet: Treat It Gentle; the Lift and Times of a Jazz Master


Yudkin, Jeremy, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Sidney Bechet: Treat It Gentle; The Life and Times of a Jazz Master. 2007. Directed by Alan Lewens. Produced by Jo Lustig. 57 minutes, colour, DVD. Available from: Kultur Films, West Long Branch, NJ 07764, USA.

Towards the end of his life, Sidney Bechet (1897-1959), whom French intellectuals called "le dieu," dictated his autobiography, Treat It Gentle. It was published in 1960, the year after his death. The previous year had also seen the death of other jazz pioneers, including Billie Holiday and her sometime paramour, Lester Young. In a way 1959 marked the turning point in the jazz century. The first (recorded) generation of the new indigenous American music was passing the torch to the second, though Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington were still around and still mesmerizing audiences.

Bechet was, with Louis Armstrong, responsible for transforming the sound of jazz from an ensemble of improvisers to one that focused on a single player: the star soloist. He also established the saxophone at the forefront of jazz instruments (though he played clarinet in addition to the soprano sax). He was a powerful player, with a broad tone and throbbing vibrato. Duke Ellington called him "the epitome of jazz."

The DVD Sidney Bechet: Treat It Gentle; The Life and Times of a Jazz Master takes us: from New Orleans, where Bechet was born to a well-off Creole family and where as a young man he played in the bands of Henry Allen, Bunk Johnson, and Joe Oliver; to New York and London, where he played in Will Marion Cook's Syncopated Orchestra, which made a splash at the Royal Philharmonic Hall; and finally to Paris, where he lived for the last ten years of his life. It was in London that he began to play the soprano saxophone, adding the instrument to his repertoire. …

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