Freddie Keppard’s Handkerchief

He would play with a handkerchief over his fingers
and everybody thought it was to hide his style.
But Sidney Bechet figured out Freddie Keppard
was fooling, making people think he had
some secret technique to conceal,
when it was only misdirection—
you learn by hearing, not looking.


He could have made the first jazz record but he
didn’t, and people thought he was afraid
the competition would steal his ideas on
the cornet, but again, Bechet sussed it out;
“There was only one real reason:
Freddie just didn’t care to—that was all.”

“A man, he’s got all kinds of things in him,”
Bechet said, “and the music wants to talk
to all of him.” It was just the pleasure for
Freddie; he was playing the music from the
inside, not really caring about the business.
He was proud enough, sending clippings home


from New York, what all the newspapers was
writing about him and his music and his band.
“He was a real musicianer,” Sidney said. Seven years
older, Freddie had his own band that came to
Sidney’s house to play for his big brother’s birthday
party, and it turned into Sidney’s first gig.

He sneaked away to a dark room and sat
himself down in his brother’s dentist’s chair.
Little Sidney in short pants sat there and
played along with a band he could hear
but not see. He played the clarinet so that
no one could see him, but everybody could hear him.


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