Sunday, June 03, 2012

George Lewis at Congo Square in 1951 and 1952

Many will be aware of my appreciation of the New Orleans Jazz Clarinetist, George Lewis, who was a central figure of the New Orleans revival in the forties and then a major part of the traditional New Orleans jazz scene of the fifties, sixties and beyond. An older release on George Buck’s American Music imprint is Municipal Auditorium, Congo Square 1951 and 1952 by George Lewis’ Ragtime Jazz Band. Included are two performances that were part of charity concerts organized for the National Society for Crippled Children sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz Club.

Lewis’ Band on both occasions included Percy Humphrey on trumpet, Jim Robinson on trombone, Alton Purnell on piano, Alcide ‘Slow Drag’ Pavageau on bass and Lawrence Marrero on banjo. In 1951, Louis Barbarin subbed for Lewis’ regular drummer, Joe Watkins, while in 1952, Albert Walters joined Humphrey on trumpet. Included are five performances from 1951 and six from 1952, although “Bugle Boy Boy March” from 1951 has limited fidelity because of its source material.

The 1951 selections open with a terrific Panama Rag with Lewis clarinet snaking around Humphrey’s lead and Robinson’s potent tailgate style. Just a Little While To Stay Here is a spirited treatment of the hymn where Lewis takes off on his solo with Purnell’s honky tonk piano pushing him along before his own break accented by Lewis with Marrero’s banjo adding to the percussiveness of the playing here. Louis Armstrong’s influence is evident from Humphrey’s sizzling trumpet and Purnell’s vocal on Heebee Jeebies.

The 1952 concert opens with The Star Spangled Banner, played fairly straightly before they launch into a dynamic rendition of the staples of Lewis’ repertoire, Climax Rag, with the two trumpets adding perhaps more sizzle than usual and Lewis taking a highly energetic solo. The is a little raggedness between the two trumpets for the head of the exciting Bugle Call Rag. Perhaps the highpoint is Lewis’ rendition of his classic, Burgundy Blues, with just rhythm backing (Marrero’s chords being effective) Lewis on this superb piece of instrumental blues that was a signature number for him. After his pensive playing, the group ends its performance with a spirited Down in Honky Tonk Town.

A decade later, when Preservation Hall opened, the Lewis Band was the model for the type of music presented, and these musicians were the foundation for the Hall’s own bands as it became the institution it is today. George Lewis at Municipal Auditorium, Congo Square 1951 and 1952 is another excellent release of Lewis’ music that George Buck has issued on American Music and other labels. With so many excellent Lewis recordings available, the music on this one still stands out as among the better ones. This is available directly from as well as finer retailers like the Louisiana Music Factory (

This was a purchase and here is the George Lewis Band in performance with Kid Howard on trumpet I believe.

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