Along with his fellow New Orleanian, Louis Armstrong, Bechet was one of the first great soloists in jazz. His throaty, powerful clarinet and his throbbing soprano are among the most thrilling sounds in early jazz. He went from being a pioneer of jazz in the 1920s to a national hero in France, where he spent the final decade of his life. In his teens he made his name playing in some of New Orleans's up-and- coming bands, and he played there and in Chicago with King Oliver.
Sidney Bechet was born in New Orleans in May 1897, of Creole ancestry, grew up in a middle class environment. His father, Omar, who was a shoemaker, played the flute as a hobby. Indeed, music had an important role in the Bechet household, as Sidney's four brothers also played instruments. His brother, Leonard, played the clarinet and trombone, and it was to the former instrument that eight- year-old Sidney was attracted. Leonard, whose main interest was the trombone, passed along his clarinet to his younger brother. At first, Sidney played in the family musicales - waltzes, quadrilles, and the polite music of the middle class. But as he grew into adolescence, Sidney was attracted to the syncopated music played in the dance halls and brothels in the Storyville District. As a boy, he would watch the street parades in which jazz bands played and was so attracted to the music, that he often played hooky from school. As he became more proficient on the clarinet, Sidney played in local jazz bands, such as the Young Olympians. His playing so impressed Bunk Johnson, the legendary cornet player, that Sidney was invited to join Johnson's band, the Eagle Band. Sidney gained much experience, playing in dance halls, and for picnics, and parties.