Find of the Week: Sidney Bechet’s talking clarinet

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NEW ORLEANS -- News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week from the museum's vaults.

This week, we found something that can squeal, and it might even squawk. But in the right hands, it can definitely talk.

It's the clarinet that belonged to world-class jazz musician Sidney Bechet.

"He is a child prodigy and picks up the clarinet very quickly," explained Eric Seiferth, assistant curator and historian for the Historic New Orleans Collection. "[He] has a very unique style and has a very strong vibrato, and is one of the first jazz soloists."

The jewel of the ensemble, the clarinet is one of the front-line instruments in a traditional New Orleans jazz band.

"The clarinet around the turn of the century as traditional jazz is evolving is one of the premiere instruments," Seiferth said. "It carries the melody, and a lot of our well-known New Orleans musicians are either trumpet players or clarinet players."

This clarinet is distinct from others, as most clarinets are played with the fingers covering up the holes over the keys. This clarinet that Bechet owned is equipped with the plateau system, so like a saxophone, there are no holes to cover.

It gives a bit of insight to Bechet's preferences in his later life. That's when his interest changed from playing the clarinet to playing the soprano saxophone.

"We think it was made as a special order from Bechet, or as a gift to Bechet," Seiferth said.

The plateau system for a clarinet is also ideal for children who might not be able to easily cover the holes of a traditional clarinet. This leads some to believe that the instrument might have been a gift from Bechet to his son, perhaps to follow in his father's footsteps.

Bechet's clarinet is not the only item you'll find at the Historic New Orleans Collection. It is also home to Bechet's leopard print jacket.

You can see all the Historic New Orleans Collection has to offer by visiting either one of their campuses. The Royal Street campus, including The Shop at The Collection, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Chartres Street campus, including the Williams Research Center and Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about the Historic New Orleans Collection here.


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