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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jazz a la Creole - Sidney Bechet and Omer Simeon

Jazz a la Creole
Sidney Bechet and Omer Simeon
A Jazztone Society Classic J-1213

Available from online vendors so I will not be posting a sample. Presented here to share the cover art and bio information.

From the back cover: "Pops" is an affectionate and respectful appellation given to just a few of the elder statesmen of jazz. Friends and fellow musicians call Louis Armstrong "Pops," and Benny Goodman, who started playing at the age of fifteen, has also reached both the age and the degree of accomplishment that warrants his being accorded the title too. But, to be just a little facetious, Sidney "Pops" Bechet is the daddy of 'em all.

Born in New Orleans, on May 14, 1897, Bechet began playing the clarinet while still in knee pants and is reputed to have "sat in" with the great Freddie Keppard's band at the age of eight. His musical precocity attracted the attention of famed clarinetist, George Banquet, who subsequently gave the youngster some formal instruction. At fourteen, young Sidney had his first steady professional job - with the Eagle Band. That was in 1914. The next year, Clarence Williams, the song writer, publisher, and pianist, took the teen-ager on a tour of Texas with a vaudeville unit, and, soon after their return, Sidney was grabbed up by King Oliver for the Olympia Brass Band.

Then, in the summer of 1917, he left New Orleans for Chicago. In the Windy City, he worked at both the DeLuxe Cafe with Freddie Keppard and at the Pekin with the lengenary pianist-singer, Tony Jackson. In 1919, he became a member of Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopators and toured Europe with that band that year. It was in London that Ernest Ansermet, the famous Swiss conductor, heard Bechet and wrote what was probably the first published serious appraisal of jazz. Prophetically, Ansermet wrote, "His own way is, perhaps the highway the whole world will swing along tomorrow.

Bechet remained in Europe until 1922 and then returned to New York, where he recorded with Clarence Williams and Louis Armstrong. In 1925, he again left for the continent with a show called "The Black Revue," leaving after a year to join a band that toured the Soviet Union. Back in Paris in 1927, he rejoined "The Black Revue" and led the show's fourteen-piece orchestra. In 1930, he came back to New York with Noble Sissle, with whose band Bechet was to play intermittenly for the next decade.

After leaving Sissle, Sidney Bechet retired temporarily from the music business to set up a small tailor shop in Harlem. But, with the resurgent interest in brought about by the Swing Era, Sidney once again turned to music and recorded and played with small groups in New York, Boston, and other jazz centers. Soon after the end of World War II, Bechet once more went to Europe and has since settled in Paris.

These recordings were made in Paris a few years ago with Zutty Singleton on drums and another expatriate, Lil Armstrong, on piano. Lil, of course, is the former wife of Louis Armstrong and the pianist who played on the famous Armstrong Hot Five recordings. The trio format is perhaps the best possible one for Bechet's formidable creative talents. Playing the unorthodox soprano saxophone, Bechet's trumpet-like attack creates one of the most virile and vital sounds in jazz, and his powerful drive on up-tempo numbers and his great lyrical solos on ballads are wonderful things to hear.

For more than thirty-five years, Omer Simeon, an obscure name to the casual jazz listener, has been on of the most creative and influential clarinet stylists in jazz. Widely respected by fellow-musicians, Simeon has been associated with many of the most important bands in jazz history, having both worked and recorded with such key figures as King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson and Earl Hines.

Born in New Orleans, in 1902, Simeon, unlike most Crescent City natives, was not affected by the town's heady and contagious jazz atmosphere. Instead, he waited until he got to Chicago to take up music as a profession, getting his fundamental training there with Lorenzo Too, a master of New Orleans clarinet style. His first professional job was with his brother's Al Simeon's band in 1920, and his first big-time engagement came in 1923, when he was twenty-one years old. He became a member of Charlie Elgar's Creole Band, which played principally in Milwaukee.

During his stay with Elgar, Simeon made his first recordings with a Jelly Roll Morton pick-up band. This was in 1926. The next year marked Omer's joining King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators in New York, as a replacement for Albert Nicholas. This was, however, the beginning of Oliver's decline, and, after a few month of touch going, the band broke up.

Soon afterward, Simeon worked with Luis Russell's band at The Nest in Harlem and recorded again with Jelly Roll Morton as well as with some of Clarence William's groups. Then, in October 1928, he worked with Erskine Tate's theater orchestra in Chicago, playing accompaniments for both stage shows and silent movies. In 1929, he made the first of the few recordings to appear under his own name, with Earl Hines on piano. During the depression he joined up with Hines and played with the pianist's big band for nearly a decade.

Serious critics of jazz, as well as leading musicians, have long acknowledged Omer Simeon as being among the greatest clarinetists of our time and one of the major influences, for instance, in developing the style of Benny Goodman. Long before Goodman's famous trio recordings, it was Jelly Roll Morton who realized that the trio form was ideal for a clarinetist, and some of Morton's most famous records were trios featuring Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard and Jelly's favorite, Omer Simeon.

On these high-fidelity performances made especially for the Jazztone Society, Simeon has once more been given the opportunity to display his brilliant New Orleans clarinet style. Four of the tunes done here are originals based on Creole themes, and the accompanying musicians – Sammy Price on bass and Zutty Singleton on drums – often Simeon sympathetic and solidly swinging support. – Paul Shapler

Sidney Bechet - Soprano Saxophone
Lil Armstrong - Piano
Zutty Singleton - Drums

Milenburg Joys
Rockin' Chair
Big Butter And Egg Man
My Melancholy Baby
Limehouse Blues
Black Bottom
I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues

Omer Simeon - Clarinet
Sam Price - Piano
Zutty Singleton - Drums

Qua-ti Blues
Qua-ti Rhythm
Grand Boubousse
Frankie And Johnny
Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home

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