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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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Remembrance of Jazz Past

Remembrance of Jazz Past

Sidney Bechet in France

(p.220) 5. Remembrance of Jazz Past
Paris Blues

Adny Fry

University of Chicago Press

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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