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Paris BluesAfrican American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960$
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Andy Fry

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226138787

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226138954.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 17 October 2019

Remembrance of Jazz Past

Remembrance of Jazz Past

Sidney Bechet in France

Chapter:
(p.220) 5. Remembrance of Jazz Past
Source:
Paris Blues
Author(s):

Adny Fry

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226138954.003.0006

This final chapter concerns the unusual career of Sidney Bechet, the New Orleans reedman who occupies a special position among émigré African-American musicians in France. Appearing first in 1919, he – and jazz – were famously eulogized by conductor Ernest Ansermet; in 1925 he helped to launch Josephine Baker to international stardom. Iconic moments in retrospect, but Ansermet’s text is not as trusty a symbol of Europeans’ acute perception as historians have long assumed; and Bechet’s true rise to fame came not until a Gallic version of the New Orleans revival movement in the forties and fifties – “Bechetmania” as it has been called. No straightforward revivalist, Bechet’s versions of old Creole folksongs – or their ur-type – divided critics; but they struck a chord with French audiences, generating nostalgia for a common past that may never have been. Bechet, too, was busy reshaping history: appropriating an old folktale to write himself into the very foundations of jazz. In the end, it is the gap between their understandings that proves most illuminating: Bechet was not reliving the past for its own sake but rather remaking it for the current day – even, in his crazed reception by French teenagers, anticipating the popular music of the future.

Keywords:   Sidney Bechet, Ernest Ansermet, New Orleans revival, nostalgia, jazz history, African-American folktales, popular music

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