During the so-called Great Depression, aware of my immersion in music, my father bought a small soprano saxophone for me in a pawnshop when I was 10. When I heard Sidney Bechet, I put it away in despair. I turned to the clarinet, starting a lifelong love affair. My model wasn’t Benny Goodman; he had the chops but was deficient in soul. Artie Shaw had both, but for deep, warm waves of sound, there was Irving Fazola (of the Bob Crosby Bob Cats), whom hardly anyone mentions anymore.
For astonishing inventiveness-a surprise in every note and many cliffhangers-there was Pee Wee Russell. Years later, when I recorded him for Candid with Coleman Hawkins, a rejuvenation of their 1929 session, Hawkins told me, “Back then, they said he played ‘funny notes.’ They were not then, and they aren’t now.”