Sidney Bechet: Viper Mad


Viper Mad


Noble Sissle's Swingsters


Ken Burns Jazz: Sidney Bechet (Columbia/Legacy)

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Sidney Bechet (soprano sax),

O’Neill Spencer (vocals), Clarence Brereton (trumpet), Gil White (tenor sax, clarinet), Harry Brooks (piano), Jimmy Jones (bass), Jimmy Miller (guitar), Wilbert Kirk (drums)


Composed by Sidney Bechet


Recorded: New York, February 10, 1938


Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

What more can you ask from a song? A memorable, catchy melody, sung by O'Neill Spencer in perfect late-'20s/early '30s style; a novelty theme touching on the illicit; and buoyant, jaunty instrumental work played at a high level. All of which makes "Viper Mad" irresistible. The illicit part is the title, which meant mad for marijuana—a substantial presence in the background of jazz culture—putting this tune in the same happy family as the popular "hokum" songs by Tampa Red and others from that era. The score of 91 is for pure musical value; if a fun quotient were included, the rating would be 95.

After a brief ensemble opening, Sidney Bechet introduces the theme in rhythmic, rollicking, jaunty manner, then yields to the vocal choruses. Following those, Clarence Brereton takes the lead with some beautifully flowing trumpet work, including nicely placed blue notes, and Bechet responds with a soaring, ringing break on his soprano sax in his inimitable style before the final vocal chorus. This is highly enjoyable stuff, and the melody will keep reverberating in your head.

Reviewer: Dean Alger

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