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Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet (1897–1959) was an American saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer, best known as a pioneering figure in the evolution of jazz music. Born in New Orleans to a middle-class mixed-race family, Bechet learned to play instruments found around his house, eventually settling on the clarinet and playing with various orchestras around New Orleans, where he learned the improvisational techniques that characterized early jazz. In 1914, he began touring the United States, eventually settling in New York City with Will Marion Cook's Syncopated Orchestra. With the orchestra, Bechet traveled to London, where he became acquainted with the saxophone and developed a style different from his previous clarinet playing. Though accepted and popular in England, Bechet was convicted of assault and, after serving a short prison sentence, was deported to the United States in November 1922. He would go on to tour Europe with other groups but, returning to the United States immediately after the stock market crash of 1929, found it hard to find performing work. He gained short-term work but, frustrated by his restrictive recording contract with Jazz Limited specifically and the American jazz scene in general, he moved to France in 1950. He found immediate popularity as a solo performer after the Paris Jazz Fair and signed with Disques Vogue in 1953. Bechet's career is marked by his numerous compositions, which were covered and inspired pieces by later jazz musicians, his playing with Louis Armstrong in the Clarence Williams Blues Five (1923), and his participation in early experiments in instrumental music recording. He died of lung cancer on May 14, 1959.