The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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The saxophone story did not begin with the alto and end with the tenor. Concurrently with these two familiar models a number of others have been employed, cutting across the broad span from piercing soprano to nethermost bass.
Few musicians have mastered the soprano sax, said to be the recalcitrant child of the family, hard to keep in line when accurate intonation is desired. The only man to make it his permanent mate (deserting it occasionally for a flirtation with his first love, the clarinet) is Sidney Bechet. A legend in New Orleans as a teen-aged prodigy before World War I, Bechet toured Europe with a concert orchestra not long after the Armistice. The shrill voice of Bechet's soprano sax finds sym­pathetic settings at fast tempi in harmonically simple tunes Hke Shine and Darktown Strutters* Ball, or in improvisations on standard slow melodies such as Indian Summer and Summertime. His central personality trait is the vibrato—Frederic Ramsey Jr. calls it "big and sunny" while Hodeir hears it as "panting in high frequency". Bechet has spent almost all the past decade in France, where, like Louis Armstrong in the United States, he has stepped beyond the commercial boundaries of jazz to become a national vaudeville figure, serving up French popular songs sizzling hot, functioning in the music halls of Paris no less diligently than Satchmo in the studios of Hollywood.
The dangers inherent in the term * 'inimitable" recur in the case of Bechet. Bob Wilber, thirty years Bechets junior, studied and played with him frequently for a couple of years; the most