Treat it Gentle: An Autobiography
From OHA Wiki
Sidney Bechet was born in New Orleans in May 1897 to a middle class family. His father, Omar, was a shoemaker and played the flute while Sidney and his four brothers also played instruments. Bechet was discovered in 1919 when composer-conductor Will Marion Cook asked him to join the Southern Syncopated Orchestra. Bechet played both the clarinet and soprano saxophone and in 1932, Bechet and his friend, trumpet player Tommy Ladnier formed their own band, the New Orleans Feetwarmers. Moving to Brooklyn in 1945, Bechet taught music in order to maintain a steady income. Spending most of the last years of his life in France, many of Bechet’s compositions are inspired by the country, including "Petite Fleur", and "Si tous vois ma mere." Bechet passed away in Paris on May 14, 1959.1
Treat it Gentle was built upon interviews with Bechet, Joan Reid, and John Ciardi in Paris in the late 1950s and edited into a chronological narrative by Desmond Flower. In the preface to the first paperback edition, Rudi Blesh laments at the lack of autobiographies for jazz musicians, remarking that they can be “numbered on one’s fingers”.2With Treat it Gentle, Bechet and Flower succeeded in creating one of the foremost examples in the genre, weaving in Bechet’s personal and familial experiences with a description of life in the South during the early twentieth century, his decision to move to France in order to be “closer to Africa” and his grandfather, Omar, a former slave and the embodiment of Africa to Bechet, musical influences from blues and slave music, and the hardships associated with life as an artist. 3 In the final chapter, Bechet describes how music still affected his life in his later years: “I’ve been telling you this story, and maybe you’re asking, ‘How’s it going to end?’ There’s ways I could make a fiction to give you an ending. But that won’t do. What I got to say has to be as natural as the music. There’s no fiction to it. What I have to say, it’s what the music has been saying to me and what I’ve been saying to it as far back as I can remember. The music makes a voice, and, no matter what happens, the man that cares to hear that voice, he can hear it…. All I mean is the music is still there for any who want it”.4
Methodological Comparisons within the Oral Autobiography Genre
- See the article on Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw for further analysis.
- See the article on Glen Alyn’s I Say Me for a Parable: The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman for further analysis.
- http://www.sidneybechet.org/ (Accessed May 12, 2009).
- Sidney Bechet, Treat it Gentle: An Autobiography, 1.
- Ibid., 45.
- Ibid., 217.