GEORGE LEWIS: NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND AND QUARTET
GEORGE LEWIS' NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND (Side 1):
Alvin Alcorn (tp) Bill Matthews (tb) George Lewis (cl) Lester Santiago (p) Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (b) Paul Barbarin (drs)
New Orleans; August 26, 1951
GEORGE LEWIS QUARTET (Side 2) :
George Lewis (cl) Alton Purnell (p) Lawrence Marrero(bj) Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (b) Edmond Souchon (vcl)
New Orleans; September 25, 1953
Big Butter and Egg Man #2 (3'40") (Friend-Clare-Santly)
Bourbon Street Parade #2 (3'31") (Paul Barbarine)
Over the Waves (2'59") (Rosas)
Who's Sorry Now (3'18") (Kalmar-Ruby-Snyder)
St. Phillips Street Breakdown (2'14") (George Lewis)
Salty Dog (vcl) (2'43") (Charlie Jackson)
Corinne, Corinna (vcl) (4'03") (Shelby Darnell)
The Old Rugged Cross (3'02") (traditional)
Traditional jazz - the strictly 'righteous' sound that remains faithful to its New Orleans Origins - quite obviously is a hardy music that refuses to lie down and die. Despite all attempts to keep it quietly in what some consider its 'proper' place as no more than a part of the historical past, the New Orleans style insists on being a vital part of the current jazz scene. And there can be no doubt that a very substantial share of the credit for this phenomenon must be awarded to the deceptively slight and modest clarinetist who is featured on this LP.
These eight examples of the music of GEORGE LEWIS have never before been released, although the four full-band numbers are part of a 1951 series of record dates (for the Circle label) that produced several other numbers that have been issued. The present versions of Big Butter and Egg Man and Bourbon Street Parade are, as the "#2" designations indicate, altenate takes. (The other two selections are part of rather substantial body of unreleased Circle material, by Lewis and by other important jazz artists, that will all eventually be made available on Riverside LPs.) The four quartet numbers that form Side 2 were recorded for Riverside by Pete Miller, ex-president of the New Orleans Jazz Club, under the supervision of Dr. Edmond Souchon.
George Lewis, who is now somewhere in his mid-fifties, has enjoyed a rather remarkable personal resurgence in recent years. His first attracted wide-spread attention as an important part of the group with which Bunk Johnson recorded, beginning in 1942, and which shared the excitement and glory that followed Bunk's triumphal New York debut in 1945. But, subsequently, Lewis returned to his New Orleans home and to the rather hit-or-miss series of weekend jobs, one-shots, and short runs that had been the inevitable pattern for him and for most jazz traditionalists in that city for several years. Lewis had been "discovered," but it didn't seem to have helped much. He was certainly not entirely overlooked or undervalued, at least not by fans (particularly the local New Orleans Jazz Club) or by the growing number of groups of younger white musicians who were engaged in carrying on the earlier jazz traditions. They were fully aware of the considerable talents of George Lewis, prized his few records, argued over what relative position he should be assigned in the hierarchy of all-time New Orleans clarinetists. But neither the respect and interest of such partisans, nor even a prominent spread in Look Magazine in 1950, produced much tangible results in the way of things like steady work.
Then, as the '50s got under way, there began a gradual rise in the Lewis fortunes. It was no sudden burst, but in a few years it mushroomed to a degree that must be surprising even to his most devoted fans, and has probably restored their faith in the eventual triumph of justice and merit in this world … For by now George Lewis is firmly established as a major jazz figure in his home town and just about everywhere else. His present band has had highly successful engagements and concerts in the Midwest and on the West Coast, and has made a quantity of well-received records for a variety of labels. It would seem that an ever-expanding body of listeners is coming around to the point of view long held by the 'insiders', and is finally recognizing the warmth and appeal of George Lewis and his brand of jazz.
It's actually not too easy to pinpoint this man's role in the overall jazz picture. He doesn't really fit into any single near category. He is by no means an elderly "old master," brought back from oblivion to do things exactly as they were done in the old, old days. (One source of confusion is the fact that the band that became known as Bunk Johnson's, after he was "rediscovered," was basically a group that had been playing together for years under George's leadership. Among other things, this led many people to the quite inaccurate assumption that the whole band was in Bunk's advanced age bracket.) Lewis actually belongs to a 'lost generation' who were barely starting out as musicians when Storyville was closed and the main current of jazz moved northward. He remained a working jazzman in New Orleans during the more than two decades when hardly anyone in the jazz world stopped to think of that city as anything more than a musical ghost town that had once been the jazz center. But there was still activity going on down there, even if not very strongly at times. And even though Lewis and his colleagues very often had to scratch out a living at a variety of non-musical jobs, they never even considered trying to do without jazz.
Thus their music, when it finally re-emerged into general view, was above all an example of the continuity of jazz. Not having been strongly subjected to the pressures of changing styles and moods, it was by no means 'modernized.' But neither was it precisely a replica of the style of the Storyville days. For these men had been content to keep playing along those general lines, but in accordance with their own tastes, and feeling no compulsion to "honor" the good old days by doggedly rigid adherence.
This feeling of freedom leas the Lewis repertoire to be a most wide-raging one, as demonstrated here by the inclusion of traditional-style originals like St. Phillip Street Breakdown and Bourbon Street Parade, a spiritual (The Old Rugged Cross), an old pop song (Who's Sorry Now), an old waltz that Lewis has a particular fondness for re-shaping (Over the Waves). In the band numbers he is joined by some very accomplished local talent, including the firm horn of Alvin Alcorn and the drumming of Paul Barbarin, a veteran of Luis Russell's big band of the '20s and '30s who returned home to New Orleans several years ago. In the quarter numbers, backed by a rhythm section with whom he has worked closely for a long time, Lewis is given the opportunity to take off on his own at extended length - a rare event that should be greatly appreciated by his fans. (As a note of added interest to New Orleanians: the vocal on Salty Dog is a special contribution by Dr. Edmond Souchon.)
In all cases, George Lewis comes up with an ever-fresh style that is best described as a very direct descendant of very early jazz, but a descendant with an unflagging vitality all its own.
George Lewis can also heard, with Bunk Johnson, on -
New Orleans Revival: BUNK JOHNSON and KID ORY (Riverside RLP 1047)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover art by Robert J. Lee; typographical design by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.