For Sidney Bechet

Just stumbled across this excellent documentary about the great Sidney Bechet and couldn’t resist posting it alongside the poem by Philip Larkin that follows it, which is called For Sidney Bechet. Watching great jazz musicians play, including the rare clips of Bechet shown in the video, the thought always comes into my mind that if you took the instrument away from them, it would just carry on playing by itself…

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares

Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced

Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.

6 Responses to “For Sidney Bechet”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Bechet is my favourite. Who was Larkin’s poem written about?

  2. stringph Says:

    I wonder how Larkin chose the two epithets in the last line: ‘long-haired’ (as of a Romantic pianist?) and ‘scored’ (as of a face, or written music?).

    • telescoper Says:

      I think “scored” presumably as opposed to “improvised”…I always thought “long-haired” was a reference to rock musicians, but I may be wrong.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      My immediate reaction was that he was referring to rock music (long hair) and classical (scores) and saying that he preferred jazz.

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