Avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez

Sidney Bechet (1897 – 1959), born in New Orleans, was a gifted jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer. He was a largely self-taught child prodigy who traveled and toured with a variety of bands. He could read music, but preferred to play by ear.

By 1919, he was in Europe, where his innovative style was well-received. His temper got the better of him in Paris, which cost him a year in jail. Apparently, a musician told him he was played a wrong chord, a gun battle broke out and a passerby was injured. A conflicting account is more prosaic and suggests that Bechet was ambushed by a rival.

In 1941, he recorded Sheik of Araby, in which he played all six instruments, piano, bass, drums, clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophone. He relocated permanently to Paris in 1950, where he remained until his death. One of his biggest hits was Petite Fleur (Little Flower).

Today’s expression, avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez, (avwar lah mootard key mohnt oh nay) literally means “to have mustard go up the nose,” but figuratively means to lose one’s temper. Cool jazz and hot tempers don’t mix.

Les Années Bechet

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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