Bechet: Our Contemporary

Bechet: Our Contemporary

-Reporting by Katelyn Brunner

Everyone knows the wild and focused vibrato of Sidney Bechet’s saxophone in the jazz world; it’s simply a staple. Saxophonist, Rob Reddy, however, believes that Bechet contributed much more to  jazz besides assisting in solidifying American styles. Rob Reddy’s new album, Bechet: Our Contemporary, released on September 11, 2015, weaves the work of the jazz legend with his unique sound, creating a new avenue through which Bechet’s work shines. That said, Reddy’s original scores are hardly a pale backdrop for  Bechet’s pieces. Reddy’s pseudo-improvised, but painstakingly composed works are brilliant in their own right, creating an interesting and appropriate context for these new arrangements.

Bechet: Our Contemporary is an “organic conversation between [Bechet’s] compositions and mine,” Reddy tells It is clear that the process of re-arranging Bechet’s original scores was an amazing experience. “This is the first time I’ve ever recorded anyone else’s music,” Reddy reflects. “I had to strip (Bechet’s) compositions down to the most basic elements, the melody, and build around it.” And build around, he did. Many of the arrangements, especially Reddy’s rendition of “Petit Fleur,” are innovative and fresh. Reddy employs an acoustic guitar to ground the piece in this era, softening the arrangement. His changes to Bechet’s classics help his original compositions fit into Bechet: Our Contemporary seamlessly.

Though heavily influenced by his predecessor, Reddy didn’t want to make the record a complete tribute to Bechet. “There’s quite a bit of ‘tribute record’ going on, but the only way I thought I could do this and be respectful to Bechet was to put [Bechet: Our Contemporary] in [a new] context. It’s not coming from the same social and political environment that his music was created in,” Reddy says. The era in which Bechet played (during the Jazz Age through World War II, and ending amid the early days of the Cold War) was fraught with civil and political unrest. The music and the world changed quickly and intensely, and Bechet’s compositions reflect this epoch in history.

When asked why he loves and plays jazz, Reddy responds quickly and decisively. “For me, when I hear my favorite jazz music, it has this sense of urgency, the feeling that the musicians playing it had no choice but to play the music they played,” The feeling and emotions behind the music are as involuntary as they are irresistible. Reddy notes that jazz is intrinsically linked to American social justice movements. “The greatest jazz music, I think, has come out of making a statement about freedom, self-expression, and the right to both. So that desire–that’s what I listen for,” he says. It is clear that both Bechet and Reddy’s music has this quality in spades­­. Bechet: Our Contemporary allows us to witness a parallel eagerness in both Reddy’s and Bechet’s pieces, allowing for a cohesive and fascinating listening experience. Bechet: Our Contemporary is, quite simply, a must-listen. Reddy’s original pieces and his arrangements of Bechet’s works are full of effortless musicality and somewhat transcendent moments. Jazz aficionados, beware- this is an album with which to fall in love.

Reddy’s new project, INTERRUPTION! is a collaborative piece between Reddy and Oliver Lake, wherein Reddy will conduct a 14-piece ensemble alongside a libretto written and performed by Lake, promises to be just as much of a success as Bechet: Our Contemporary. Regarding this new venture, Reddy states, “The whole piece is based on a sermon given last July by William Barber. It completely floored me. I’d say he’s one of the most prophetic voices in the social justice movement today.” As in Bechet: Our Contemporary, this new endeavor will certainly feature the sense of urgency that Reddy prizes in great music. Information about past projects, INTERRUPTION!, and his new album is available on Rob Reddy’s website.