Sunday, July 31, 2011

George Lewis' Genial Traditional New Orleans Jazz

Emerging as part of the New Orleans Revival with Bunk Johnson, clarinetist George Lewis himself became a highly loved and influential traditional New Orleans musician and led a band that by 1953 toured the United States (and later the world) extensively as well as recorded extensively over the decades, often in the company of trombonist Jim Robinson and trumpeter Avery ‘Kid’ Howard. Lewis and his associates were rooted in the blues (Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz has referred to Lewis as a blues musician) and their simple musical embellishments may be far removed from the sometimes abstract musical solos of contemporary jazz, but the music is imbued with a simple joyful quality that makes this music spin its hold on folks decades after he has passed.

504 records, a label specializing in the music of New Orleans issued several years ago a double disc by The George Lewis Ragtime Band, Live in Concert — 1963. In addition to the afore-mentioned front-line, the band included that night “Slow Drag” Pavageau on bass; Emmanuel Sayles on banjo; Charlie Hamilton on piano and Joe Watkins on drums with the occasional vocals handled by either Howard, Sayles or Watkins. 16 of the twenty two selections here have never been issued while six was issued on a Danish vinyl album and CD. There is two and a third hours of music presented here.

The songs are pretty representative of the band’s repertoire (and it might be suggested the traditional New Orleans repertoire) with such familiar numbers as Basin Street Blues, Milenburg Joys, Bourbon Street Parade, St. James Infirmary, Tin Roof Blues, Ice Cream Blues, Clarinet Marmalade, St. Louis Blues, Bogalusa Strut, and Walking With The King. There is Howard’s lead trombone with Lewis’ clarinet snaking in and out with Robinson’s blustery tailgate trombone weaving in as well with the rhythm section providing a jaunty rhythm. The sound is quite acceptable. Perhaps not as much presence as on the marvelous Oxford Series of recordings from the mid-50s, but satisfactory. The vocals are some what muffled. And Lewis does his Burgundy Street Blues, with his gentle and wistful tone.

This may not be an essential release perhaps by Lewis, who has numerous releases on a variety of labels, most notably American Music, but certainly a solid and representative collection that can be obtained at

I purchased this the Louisiana Music Factory when I was in new Orleans for the 2011 New Orleans JazzFest.

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