Archive for clarinet

Blue Horizon

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on September 30, 2009 by telescoper

I just noticed that somebody put this on Youtube and I couldn’t resist putting it on here. This slow blues features an extended clarinet solo by the great Sidney Bechet. I’ve loved Blue Horizon ever since I was a kid, and think it has a good claim to be the finest instrumental blues ever recorded.  I also heard it more recently at the funeral of one of my Dad’s old jazz friends. Listening to it then it struck me that it’s not just one of the greatest blues, but must also be one of the greatest laments that has ever been produced in music of any kind. It’s absolutely pure sadness – there’s no bitterness, anger or resentment about it – and it develops through the stately choruses into a sense of great pride and even, ultimately, of triumph.

A few posts ago I blogged about the thrill of high-speed jazz. This perfomance is at the other end of the scale in terms of tempo, but you can still feel pull of the harmonic progression underlying the tune. In this case it’s  the chords of a standard 12-bar blues with that irresistible  cadence of perfect fourths leading back to the root at the end of each chorus. Bechet builds quite simply on this structure, but makes frequent telling use of searing  blue notes of heart-rending emotional power. If you don’t know what a blue note is then listen, from about 2.08 onwards, to a chorus that always makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

I should also mention that the fine piano accompaniment on this all-time classic piece (recorded in December 1944) is provided by Art Hodes. Bechet’s raw power and very broad vibrato probably won’t suit scholars of the classical clarinet, but I think this is absolutely wonderful.