This biography of  Sidney Catlett comes directly from http://www.jazzandroots.com/big-sid-catlett.html.  I credit the original site — the “Jazz and Roots Club” found in Shrewsbury, England (I presume) so that readers know I am reporting rather than inventing. 

 Big Sid Catlett, was one of the large battery the swing era and one of the few who crossed stylistic boundaries smoothly without loss of quality would suffer. Born in Indiana and learned to play the piano as a child before the school band will pass to the battery.

He began his career in Chicago in the late twenties before moving to New York at the time of the Great Depression. His first serious contact with jazz came when he worked for Benny Carter’s orchestra in 1932. From that experience, he found work easily and well spent by the best swing bands of the time between most notably those of Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson.


Possessor of a light rhythm and full of swing, was able to adapt their style to each soloist who accompanied him. He was admired in his time by the general public who flocked to the ballrooms and dress, elegant, classic and fun at the same time, helped him be the focus of attention among the young. As a musician he felt at ease in any situation and in any format and was one of the first battery of swing who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

It is remarkable in its contribution to the combos that organized the great clarinetist, Benny Goodman and his final year career before he died following a heart attack, was with “All Star” by Louis Armstrong where he spent his last years in the odor of popularity.

Now I understand much more than I did.  The reason for Sidney’s wondrous inventiveness was his large battery (more volts, more swing).  And he never lost quality while crossing stylistic boundaries (are those crossings rather like going through Customs at the border or more like passing through the metal detector at the airport?).  Finally — there’s something in the air.  A scent, light, elusive, entrancing.  Not Chanel; not fresh hot coffee; not the scent of new-mown hay: no!  It’s the odor of popularity. 

I’m always glad to see that anyone’s paying attention to my heroes, but word-for-word translation has its limits.

12 responses to ““THE ODOR OF POPULARITY”

  1. Angry Jazz Purist

    Popularity IS odious.

  2. Dear Jazz Purist — just don’t be angry with me, all right? My popularity, such as it is, is the rarer unscented variety. “Hep-hep!” says the Sage.

  3. He writes well.

  4. He, too, has a large battery.

  5. dakotayellowred

    if well used the popularity is useful for if themselves and for the audience that you listen

  6. Dear DYR,

    I posted that biography to honor Big Sid (one of my favorite pursuits) and to have a little fun at the expense of the terrible translation. I am agreeing with what you’ve said above — or what I believe you’ve said (i.e., Louis’s popularity enabled him to play and sing to millions) but I wonder if we are talking about the same thing . . . ? Or are you adopting the linguistic style I am satirizing? Cheers, Michael

  7. dakotayellowred

    for me BIg Sid has been one of most great jazz drummer and i think that a artist must become popular.Scuse me my no perfect english language.

  8. In agreement we have always been!

  9. I applaud the continuing pursuit to honor Big Sid!

    Speaking of crossing over (stylistically): It takes some kind of musical savvy to be the first call drummer for both Bunk Johnson AND Dizzy Gillespie!

    That’s one of the reasons I continue to pursue honoring Pee Wee. Who else recorded with Bix AND Monk, and sounded completely at home in both of those wildly different settings?

  10. You’re right — think of PeeWee next to Fats in 1931, Tommy Flanagan in 1960; think of Sid with Bechet and Byas. I’ve always thought that even though Dizzy and Bird were at pains to call their jazz “the new thing,” musicians don’t usually care that much about what it’s called — more IS IT GOOD? Critics, alas, need to invent names. Better we should have a critics’ band where they were so busy trying to play instruments that they didn’t have the energy to theorize. Cheers! Michael

  11. Well, I sure enjoyed all the comments in response to this honest praise of BSC from England(?)- I wanted to share what I got out of the “story” not necessarily in the order mentioned.
    “…he spent his last years in the odor of popularity.” (to me) meant Sidney enjoyed the sweet smell of success. After all, he was in the primo band of all time when part of the All-Stars- how much better could it get for him… and for everyone in the band with him playing behind them(?) As for “… was one of the large battery… and “… one of the first battery of swing who played with…” (??) The first time I was helped to connect drums/drumming with the word “battery” was on the liner notes of the Symphony Hall LP (59 years ago, 1951) where Buzzy was helping or directing Catlett’s setup for the concert. The word “battery” was/is used there and after listening to him on THAT concert I reasoned that a battery of drums was something comparable to a battery of heavy guns. And, if I didn’t completely get it then, I knew for sure after spending years at sea (55-57) on the USS Iowa, BB61, a battleship with 9, 16 inch guns. When we fired a 9 gun salvo you damn well knew what a “battery” was. (Webster- “a group of guns of the same caliber”) Ka-Boom!
    Vive Big Sid!- Vive au batterie- (not of guns) but of drums in the hands of BSC!

  12. Pingback: Tweets that mention “THE ODOR OF POPULARITY” « JAZZ LIVES -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s