Best of the Jazz Nocturne Programs -
Bechet/Windhurst - Volume 2
Mississippi Rag—U. S. Jazz Magazine
These CDs are air-checks from a long stand Sidney Bechet made in 1945 at the Savoy Cafe in Boston. Creating a new version of his longstanding New Orleans Feetwarmers, Bechet hoped to launch a touring career as a small-band leader and soloist, post-World War II. The enterprise went sideways at once, when cranky virtuoso Bunk Johnson got drunk, sulked and went AWOL. Bechet called for an old and exceptionally able New Orleans compatriot, Peter Bocage, to come up with his cornet, but he only lasted three weeks in frosty Beantown.
Local fans forwarded a young unknown, 18-year-old Johnny Windhurst, to take the brass chair and these discs document the result. Bechet, the imperious master of the fish-horn, always preferred a modest partner for trumpet leads - capable, quiet men like Muggsy Spanier, Tommy Ladnier or Thomas Morris, who knew how to play in the shade of Bechet's operatic and monumental style. With Windhurst, Bechet got a malleable apprentice who nonetheless had a distinct personality and a subtly assertive, insinuating lead voice.
The rest of the band included Ray Parker, piano; Pops Foster, bass; and George Thompson, drums. The quintet was almost as sinuous and lyrical as the exceptional Bechet-Spanier Big Four of a few years earlier (with bassist Wellman Braud and guitarist Carmen Mastren). It is an ideal small-club band, playing bouncy pop jazz, with minimal sturm und drang and maximal joie de vivre. Foster is the ever-able "romping" bass bottom, and Ray Parker is an effervescent pianist. Thompson is a determinedly focused drummer, not bashful about prodding Bechet and the whole shooting match along.
Bechet, a notoriously "evil" colleague, sounds cheery and relaxed on these sides, and he must have been relieved to be shut of the endless prima donna antics of Bunk Johnson. Windhurst sounds solid, self-assured, competent and often quite inspired by Bechet's thrusting, wailing sound. While Bechet was most at home with himself (Victor executive John Reid had the perfect idea when he cut the Bechet one-man-band records in the '30s) and was always at the helm of whatever vessel he was aboard, he also had a great ear for the music his bands made and believed deeply in the New Orleans ideal of the perfect ensemble.
It was just that he couldn't keep his hands off the tiller, and his boats sometimes went round in circles, while Bechet fumed and fretted. On these sessions, the lightweight pop material sometimes tops the old jazz classics. Windhurst projects a very straight, eloquent lead chorus, and then Bechet soars off, cutting vast rococo dittos in his solos, a kind of call-and-response that is very pleasant and quite original. A bit of fluff like "Paper Moon" becomes instantly memorable. Ditto for "My Blue Heaven," "Marie" or "I Can't Get Started."
These sessions were not "dixieland" or "classic New Orleans jazz" or anything so easy to categorize. They showcase Bechet, as always, but also they project a remarkable small jazz group that burst the bounds of expectations and genre to show the reed master in a simple, congenial framework. It is one of the pities and mysteries of jazz history that Johnny Windhurst never again quite reached this plateau on the uplands of Parnassus and died relatively young, relatively obscure.
- William J. Schafer
Jazz ReviewInternet Jazz Publication
The spring and summer of 1945 found jazz legend Sidney Bechet
and his New Orleans Feetwarmers booked at Bostons Savoy Café.
The band came to town boasting the re-emerging Bunk Johnson on trumpet.
Bunk played several times but his erratic performance and personal problems
left Bechet no choice but to send the veteran player home to the Crescent
City. At the same time, he summoned Peter Bocage from New Orleans. Bocage
could not start immediately forcing Bechet to hire the 18-year-old Johnny
Windhurst, a promising Bostonian, until Bocages arrival. The members
of the Boston Jazz Society had recommended the locally known Windhurst
and the youngster performed well. Bocage arrived at the beginning of May
1945 but lasted only three short weeks before the trumpeter felt homesick
and left. Bechet re-hired Johnny Windhurst to play the Savoy gig and two
broadcasts weekly on WCOP, a Boston station with studios in the Copley
These broadcasts exist today only because they were preserved on 78-rpm
acetate discs by various fans in the Boston area. Jazz Crusade issued
five CDs of the early air shots including Bunk and Bocage. The discs are
still available. The jazz label had the sense to ask Jim Weaver to pen
the liner notes for this issue. Weaver was a member of the Boston Jazz
Society at the time of the broadcasts and really knows his stuff. His
words are honest and interesting.
Everyone is aware of Sidney Bechets (1897-1959) career and of his
importance to jazz history. Information on the leader is available everywhere
so lets concentrate on the burning question - Who the hell was Johnny
Windhurst and where did he go? Thats not easily answered! My collection
of recordings and jazz books is fairly extensive but yielded little on
the Bostonian. Small scraps of paper are scattered over my desk, each
bearing a tiny snippet of knowledge gleaned from varied sources including
postings on the Dixieland Jazz Mailing List by members Jack Tracy, Bob
Craven, Steve Barbone and Tom Duncan. Thank you gentlemen! Well
shake the box and see what falls out.
Johnny Windhurst (1926-1981) was a self-taught musician who never learned
to read music. Born in the Bronx, he eventually wound up in Boston where
he attended high school. He became a professional player in 1944, only
months before Bechet tagged him for the Savoy engagement which was to
last all summer. After the Boston appearances, Windhurst gigged around
the northern states playing with the likes of Art Hodes and James P.Johnson
in various concert venues. He appeared on a couple of Eddie Condon LPs
from the early 1950s. During the mid fifties he operated his own band
called the High Street 5 and played college venues in upper New York State.
He apparently worked in Chicago for a while but eventually settled in
California. The trumpeter played in the band of trombonist / actor Conrad
Janis but did not record with them. In 1955, Kenny Daverns band
The Washington Squares included Windhurst, Dave Frishberg, Jack Six, Cutty
Cutshall and Cliff Leeman. Windhursts recording with vocalist Barbara
Lea seems to be still available on compact disc. He recorded only once
under his own name in 1956. The LP on the Transition label is a collectors
item. Other recordings exist with the Jack Teagarden outfit in the fifties.
Cornetist Ruby Braff is said to have claimed Johnny Windhurst as an influence
on his playing.The trumpeters influences were Bix, Wild Bill Davison,
Bobby Hackett and Bunny Berigan. He was quite successful in following
their paths and that is obvious by these recordings from early in his
There you have all the bits and pieces if you wish to place them in proper
order. How about the Bechet Sessions? In the humble opinion of this writer,
Johnny Windhurst and Bechet worked together very well. Bechets famous
ego felt unthreatened in the company of younger players. There is no tension
between the two frontline musicians. Unlike the 1940 session where Bechet
had to contend with another humungous ego in the form of Muggsy Spanier,
it was easy to get along with the teenaged Windhurst. The young horn-man
doesnt seem intimidated by the living legends powerful soprano.
Just listen to Struttin With Some Barbeque. He was an exciting soloist.
Windhurst died of heart failure in 1981 at the age of 55. Sound samples
are available at the Jazz Crusade website. While sound quality isnt
perfect, its good jazz and a nostalgia trip too!
- Richard Bourcier
Boxells Jazz WebsiteNew
Zealand Jazz Website
I doubt anyone would dispute that Sidney Bechet was a colossus; a towering
genius that bestrode the traditional jazz scene for many years, especially
in Europe where his influence is still quite profound, particularly so
in France where he resided for many years. Mention soprano sax
and Bechets name is the first to hand; hear one and the comments
tend to be is/is not like Bechet. The soprano sax is a tasty
instrument but, like cream doughnuts, tends to be rather filling.
I have other Bechet recordings and, when it is he leading a band, the
front line consist of soprano sax and trumpet; a wise choice as it prevents
too much crowding. These recordings are live ones put out
as radio programmes from Boston, USA in June 1945. The trumpeter, New
Yorker Johnny Windhurst, an 18 year old brought in to replace first Bunk
Johnson and later Peter Bocage, old timers from New Orleans. Well, having
re-listened to my other recordings, I think young Windhurst is the best
trumpeter to take on the onerous task of fitting in with Bechet. A soprano
sax tends to dominate and a soprano sax played by Sidney Bechet even more
so. In some of the tracks Windhurst is definitely in the shade, but on
others, such as , Its Only A Paper Moon he not only
gets to take the lead, but to my ear, drives the tune along his own lines.
Two other tracks that stand out as being more trumpet led were Struttin
With Some Barbecue (vol 2) and I Cant Get Started With
You. I had wondered if it was Bechet getting confident enough with
the young trumpeter to let him loose, but the dates between the recording
of the programmes is a matter of days, and in fact some of the more soprano
sax led tunes are later than the ones earlier mentioned.
Naturally, these being Bechet CDs you want to hear the man play. Well,
every time I have heard a jazz programme where they want to include Bechet
at his best, they have played one of his many versions of Summertime,
so naturally there is one here on volume 2. Stunning is the word for it
and it just confirms what a virtuoso he was on the soprano sax. I also
loved his playing on Begin the Beguine. That is not to say
that he cant get too clever for his own good. Listen to Tiger
Rag where he shoves in an excess of notes at a breakneck speed and
you will see what I mean.
Now the quality; well the tracks are from old records and, I must say
having cleaned up many sound tracks myself, that the wear,
as opposed to snap crackle and pop, is high but best left
well alone; its removal would strip the tracks, leaving you
with something almost intolerably thin. The degree of noise varies a lot
but, given the importance of the tracks, quite acceptable.
I must confess to liking the period feel of the CDs especially
with the interviews and intros/outros. I have a series of BBC Jazz Club
recordings that I made on a reel-to-reel recorder in the late 60s and
are now burnt to CD (dont tell the BBC!). They are complete with
Humphrey Lytteltons commentary. I just love them! The interview
with Bechet intrigued me, especially when he talked about multi-tracking
with him playing all instruments (complete with two examples). I had thought
the first to do this was Eddie Cochran, but the old rocker was obviously
not the first man off the blocks. Pops Fosters interview is also
interesting, though I had to play it a couple of times to catch all he
said. Pops one also has a magnificent Mahogany Hall Stomp
with Louis Armstrong playing one of his nicest I have heard from his post
Hot 5 & Hot 7 period.
No, very interesting CDs these, and well worth the spin. Now what I am
after are some recordings by Johnny Windhurst who favourably impressed
- Geoff Boxell
Kings Jazz ReviewBritish Internet
What I learnt form this Big Bill Bissonnette two CD volume set is, just
how great a musician Sidney Bechet was, and how gentle a gentleman he
sounded as heard on track 8, Vol 1, in the interview of him given by Boston
jazz fan Wynne Paris, which includes an earlier recording of The Sheik
of Araby full of enjoyable riff movements.
Would Sidney Bechet ever have left the U.S.A. permanently in the early
50s until his death on the 14th of May 1959 in Paris, France, Europe,
had he stuck to clarinet playing? Having picked up a curved soprano saxophone
in Chicago in the early 1900s, the wonders of his playing on that instrument
can be heard by Johnny Hodges from Boston playing in the Duke Ellington
band formerly having been earlier engaged by Bechet playing in his club
as a member of his Harlem band. The straight soprano was the instrument
on which Sidney became famous, having picked it up in Soho, London, during
one of his visits to Europe trading venues with the U.S.A., an instrument
on which he hoped to compete with Louis Armstrong on trumpet, but could
never quite make it judging from what Ive heard of their recordings,
in particular the Armstrong ones.
Jim Weaver writes in his liner notes that "Sidney Bechet came to
Boston to play with his New Orleans Feetwarmers from late
March to mid June, 1945 at the Savoy Café on Massachusetts Avenue,
and that Jazz Crusade has issued 5 CDs" of those previous recordings.
Those CDs featured trumpeters Bunk Johnson and Peter Bocage, and Jim narrates
how 18-year-old trumpeter Johnny Windhurst from New York came to be a
member of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the band featured here by Sidney
Bechet in this Jazz Crusade very fine double album.
The first impression one may get from the recordings is that the Bechet
soprano saxophone is selfishly taking an unduly large share of the recordings
for himself, but on further scrutiny that really is not the case. The
pianist Ray Parker gets solos of clarity on nearly all tracks. Credit
affords Sidney for the consideration sensed to be given to the young trumpeter
in his two-man front liner group, a recipe standing in good stead and
encouragements in such a setting for all budding new jazz artists to gain
a suchlike opportunity to gain experience.
To me the greatest of the Windhurst horn is heard on Confessin ,
and on Blues In The Air the trumpeter gets a really nice mellow soprano
for his accompaniment influencing my comment in the previous paragraph.
In other eight tracts, Basin Street Blues inclusive in which the Windhurst
horn is distinctly heard speaks louder that what further words can say.
We learn from the jazz fan Wynne interview with string bass player George
"Pops" Foster that he started at an early age playing on the
cello, moving up to a three stringed bass ending up playing in bands like
the Magnolia and Eagle bands, and with many other famous jazz artists
including Louis Armstrong, whereupon from a call came the 1928 version
of Mahogany Hall Stomp to be played, a number that will wet the appetite
of this Jazz Crusade double album.
The audiences attending those Boston Jazz Society sessions, with hindsight,
can be classed as being lucky ones, having had the chance of listening
live to all those recordings, which I am familiar with every one of them.
- Ian King
Jazz Gazette—Internet Magazine
Sidney Bechet came to Boston in late March 1945 to play with his newly formed New Orleans Feetwarmers at the Savoy Café on Massachusetts Avenue 7 days a week. A local radio station presented live sustaining broadcasts two nights a week. These broadcastings were recorded at home on acetate discs at 78 rpm by some jazz fans which explains the rather rough sound quality. Johnny Windhurst, a 18 year old musician from New York, was the third trumpet player Bechet had used on the job. Bechet’s idea had been to form a down home style New Orleans band to tour the country with afterwards, but his dream never came true. His first choice had been Bunk Johnson who had made a remarkable comeback in 1942 supported by Bill Russell, Gene Williams and their friends. One can read in complete detail what happened in Boston with Sidney Bechet and Bunk in the fascinating book “Bunk Johson – Song Of The Wanderer” by Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn (published by the Jazzology Press). The combination Bechet/Bunk was not without friction. Both had big ego’s and the expected chemistry seldom happened. Bechet was a superb but dominating musician, which might explain his preference for the soprano sax over his initial instrument, the clarinet, because the “fish horn” made it easier to dominate the ensembles. Bunk was not ready to let himself be dominated by a man whom, as a young boy, he had picked up from his house to play in a band and brought back home after the job was finished. In addition to that Bunk had a serious drinking problem which made him often unreliable. You can hear the Bechet/Bunk combination on earlier Jazz Crusade CDs, issued before the Jazzgazette existed (JCCD-3036,3039,3040). Despite the friction between the two front liners these recordings are very interesting historical documents which every serious student of New Orleans jazz should have. After Bechet and Johnson broke up, Bechet sent for another New Orleanian he had known in his youth, a fine early trumpeter by the name of Peter Bocage. While waiting Bocage’s arrival the young Johnny Windhurst had played some jobs with the band, recommended by some Boston jazz fans. Reluctantly Bocage accepted the job but stayed for only 3 weeks. I’m sure his ideas about New Orleans jazz were slightly different from Bechet’s, but the main reason for his short stay was that he got homesick away from his native city. This firm tie with the hometown has influenced the careers of many New Orleans musicians, Buddy Petit probably being the most famous example. The Bechet/Bocage combination can also be heard on earlier Jazz Cruade CDs (JCCD-3041,3042). After Bocage had returned home Johnny Windhurst became the regular trumpet player with the band till the end of the job in June 1945.
Bill Bissonette, as a real New Orleans addict, had chosen to issue the combination of Bechet with the two New Orleans trumpet players, but following the request of some customers, he has finally issued a selection of the broadcastings with Windhurst as well. While I keep saying that for me personally the recordings with Bunk and Bocage are more interesting – I can never have enough by them! – I have to admit that James Weaver, a Boston jazz fan at the time, might be right in his liner notes when he says that Johnny Windhurst was the best choice to suit Bechet’s requirements. First of all his style was closer to Bechet’s at that time. The great master had moved away from the pure original New Orleans ensemble style to become a prominent soloist in the same way as Louis Armstrong. Later on he recorded a session in France with a modern rhythm section, including Kenny Clarke on drums, and felt completely at home with them, something that neither Bunk or Bocage would or could have done. More important was the fact that Windhurst, as a young beginning player, was humble and clever enough to stay out of the master’s way at all times. Very often Bechet is playing the lead and even when the trumpet is leading, Bechet’s accompanying work is overwhelming. As Weaver puts it: “The fast moving Windhurst horn seemed to work its way in and out of Bechet’s contributions better than either of the more famous and experienced New Orleans trumpeters”. I tend to agree with him. Windhurst was at his best in the slower numbers. It’s very easy to understand why Sidney Bechet felt so happy in France later on, surrounded by young musicians who felt honoured to play with the master and let him have the limelight all the time!
The rest of the band were capable but rather unremarkable musicians except, of course, for Pops Foster, one of the leading New Orleans bass players, but unfortunately the recording does not favour him. In volume 1 a 9 minutes interview with Bechet is included. Volume 2 contains a shorter interview with Pops Foster. If you have to make a choice between these two CDs, I would say go for volume 2 which has a tremendous version of Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine” and some great blues playing by both horns on “West End Blues” and Bechet’s own “Blues In The Air”, but then of course you would miss the interview with Bechet. Again we have to admire Bill Bissonnette for having the courage of publishing such rare material on CD.
- Marcel Joly
Jazz Journal International—British Jazz Magazine
After Sidney Bechet's uncomfortable relationship in Boston with Bunk Johnson, and a scarcely more amiable one with Peter Bocage (who tried to boss him around - some hope!), he still had two weeks of the engagement to fulfil. Having already hired the young New York trumpeter Johnny Windhurst to fill the gap between Bunk and Bocage, Bechet decided not to risk a liaison with yet another old-timer but to use someone less argumentative, and thus Windhurst again. Although their time together did not live up to the highlights of the Bunk partnership, it had far less of the lows as well. Bechet was able to get on with expressing himself on his soprano saxophone without jibes about a 'fish horn' and suggestions that he ought to be playing clarinet.
Perhaps in gratitude for the undemanding reliability of the younger man, he did not dominate him as he did many a trumpeter and the music they made together was consistently homogeneous. Recorded from the local radio Jazz Nocturne programme, the result is a series of broadcasts which although they do not offer anything especially memorable, at least must have been pleasing to the local audience in those far-off times; and.we can share that pleasure in music which is certainly more satisfying than much of that which Bechet made in Europe towards the end of his life - which is a good reason for having it on the CD shelf for occasional enjoyment. The two interviews must have been informative to the radio listeners, but are all water under the bridge to us; it is nice to hear the voices, though.
- Christopher Hillman
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