The Bechet Legacy – Live in Concert

June 16, 2013

The Bechet Legacy: Birch Hall Concerts Live

What a delight it is to hear again this fine band. Thanks to the efforts of a fan, Stan Bowman, concert excerpts were recorded live back in 1981-2, and only now have been made available to the many who reveled in the band’s always superb musicianship and effortlessly swinging style. (And, I should add, with permission of the musicians.)

Bob Wilber’s long association with Sidney Bechet is well-known. In brief, as a teenager he was tutored by Bechet; this was back in 1946 and they recorded together in that same decade. During later years, Wilber took his remarkable playing skills into many areas of jazz but never forsook his love for the musical style of his remarkable mentor. This influence was evident in Soprano Summit, an exceptional band co-led by Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern through the 1970s, and it reappeared with The Bechet Legacy, a band in which Bob was joined by trumpeter Glenn Zottola. In this band, Bob and Glenn sometimes reflected the famous Sidney Bechet-Muggsy Spanier Big Four, but more often presented a sextet. For the session captured here, the other four musicians are pianist Mark Shane, who was in the original Legacy band, guitarist Mike Peters, bassist Len Skeat and drummer Butch Miles. The sessions were performed at Birch Hall, a hotel in Oldham, part of Greater Manchester (which is where, in 1988, Bob was musical director of the headline orchestra for the Duke Ellington Conference).

The music heard on this admirable double-CD set echoes the committed intensity that Bechet brought to all of his playing. Also vividly apparent is the love the maestro had for melody as well as the forceful swing. Among the music heard here are fine interpretations of melodic pieces such as Summertime, a song among many that brought a definitive performance from Bechet and for which Bob clearly has similar affection, I Keep Calling Your Name, one of several Bechet compositions featured here, Georgia Cabin, another fine Bechet composition although rarely heard, and Memories Of You, gorgeously played by Glenn. Among the powerful swingers included are the opener, Oh, Lady, Be Good, Dans Le Reu D’Antibes, Swing That Music and a breakneck-tempo version of Just One Of Those Things. The solo playing of Bob, on soprano saxophone and clarinet, and Glenn, on trumpet, are filled with invention and the kind of joie de vivre with which Sidney Bechet imbued his performances.

Classic Jazz Records CJ 4

Classic Jazz Records
CJ 4

Although the four rhythm section players do not have similar solo space, there are enough examples to show that they are also gifted with invention. As for their ability to swing, each these six musicians are serious swingers; put together, they continuously and consistently prompt one another exhilarating heights. Also heard is Bob’s wife, Pug Horton, who sings two songs, I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good and Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe.

Not long after these concerts, Glenn Zottola bowed out of the band and went on to develop his career in other directions. Bob Wilber continued to diversify, playing music of the present while also ensuring the music of the past was remembered (with, for example, his recreation of the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert). All the other musicians presented here also played on in many settings, always bringing to their work the highest standards. The opportunity to hear The Bechet Legacy once more is a very great pleasure and all concerned deserve thanks and congratulations.

This splendid album is available at most stores, including Amazon. There is more information on Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services website.

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