Discussion Questions

Sidney Bechet begins his book talking about a man who believed that Jazz would be lost if people didn’t remember and listen to the greats of the time. He stated,

“I began to think there’s a whole lot of people, all they’ve been hearing is how ragtime got started in New Orleans, and as far as they know it just stopped there. They get to think in a memory kind of way all about Jazz; but these people do’t seem to know it’s more than a memory thing. They don’t seem to know it’s happening right there where they’re listening to it, just as much as it ever did in memory” (2).

How does this passage highlight the problems of viewing Jazz as only one type of sound embodied by a handful of great musicians in a specific geographic area? How can we avoid what we might call “the good old days” mentality about jazz music?

What purposes does telling Omar’s story serve? Why does Bechet tell it in his autobiography, do you think?

What are the many different relationships people can have with music even if they aren’t a musician according to Bechet?

Describe the intricate relationship between the Grand Marshal and the Second Line band. What does it tell you about what makes the best dancers?

What did you learn about mentorship from Chapter 5?

What inherent differences between blues and jazz does Bechet discuss when talking about his overnight experience in jail in Galveston, TX?

What are the benefits of written music and arrangements? What limitations do they bring?

In what ways do you see systemic racism at work in this chapter? What does it tell you about the nature of racism in Europe and in the US?

Bechet describes what he thinks makes a great musician in Chapter 9. Do you agree with him, or do you think there is something else that makes a musician great that he’s missed?

We’ve often discussed the racism and injustice in the US justice system for black people, but we don’t often discuss justice systems outside of the US. Using Bechet’s perspective given in his book, is what happened in that courtroom a form of racism, or something different? What can you gather about what happened from Bechet’s telling? Does it add to or change the story you already knew about the shooting?