top of page

GEORGE LEWIS: New Orleans All Stars and Quartet

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-201R front.jpg
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

George Lewis and His New Orleans All Stars: Red Allen (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) George Lewis (cl) Lester Santiago (p) Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide (Slow Drag) Pavageau (b) Paul Barbarin (drs) (vocal on St. James Infirmary by Red Allen) 

New Orleans; August, 1951

George Lewis Quartet: George Lewis (cl) Alton Prunell (p, vcl) Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau (b)

New Orleans; September 25, 1953


1 Darktown Stutters Ball (3'06") (Shelton Brooks)

2 Hindustan (3'18") (Wallace – Weeks)

3 St. James Infirmary (vcl) (2'49") (traditional)

4 Some of These Days (3'20") (Shelton Brooks)


5 Dallas Blues (3'51") (Garrett – Wand)

6 Red Wing (2'57") (Kerry Mills)

7 Lou-Easy-An-I-A (vcl) (4'07") (Joe Darensbourg)

8 Careless Love (5'00") (traditional)

   George Lewis is the pride of New Orleans. In the past thirteen years, the 110-pound ex-stevedore has come to be the dominant figure in that branch of hot music various known as "pure," "authentic," "original," "archaic," or "classic" New Orleans jazz.

   Lewis was born in 1900 and developed and early interest in music, which was readily nurtured during the heyday of the jazz capitol. By the age of seventeen he had taught himself to play clarinet and enjoyed his first professional engagements. For many years thereafter, music seldom provided an adequate living and the slim young clarinetist found work on the docks. The jazz world first came to notice him on the historic first recordings of Bunk Johnson in 1942. It was essentially Lewis' band that Bunk fronted throughout his second career. The dearth of Johnson in 1949 found Lewis the eventual heir to all the glory. As many subsequent recordings with his own band demonstrate, he has continued to reap even more glory on his own.

   The genius of George Lewis resides partially in his unusually rich tone and fluid phrasing. Here he is at one with the great traditions of Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, and Ed Hall, sharing with the great masters that near indefinable quality called "feeling," which makes all who hear him aware that this is a clarinetist to be reckoned with. But Lewis has little of the vast imagination and expressive power of Dodds; little of the intensive wizardry of Bechet; little of the deft technique of Hall. Simplicity, an often lost virtue today, is the key to the just fame of George Lewis. For all great fold artists, the touch of simplicity is the touch which the ordinary man feels as part of himself as well as part of someone else's music. George Lewis plays music for all people, not only for groups of jazz experts or technique-minded musicians.

   If someone jazz students have branded Lewis' clarinet interpretations as overly simplified, they may have failed to see that here is where the beauty of these interpretations lies. The ancients regarded the circle as divine, in part because of its perfected simplicity. Without constant reminders of the perfection in simplicity, we have little to guide us through its many embellishments.

   Critics, even some ill-disposed towards Lewis, have described his work as "sheer, vibrant, fluid energy," "shrill singing and piping," and "such sweet conviction and limpid tone." For here is a musician whose emotional and artistic impact can hardly be described without recourse to poetry.

   Lewis is at his best when his own group, all Crescent City veterans with whom he has worked for years. Trombonist Jim Robinson, sixty-one years old at the time of these recordings, is the strong man on this team. Robinson, along with banjoist Lawrence Marrero, string bassist Alcide "Slow Drug" Pavareau, and pianist Alton Purnell were with Lewis before, during, and after the famed Bunk Johnson period. Although not the only prerequisite for a cohesive musical performance, this is with certainly an important factor in the success of the Lewis band.

   The quartet selections featuring clarinet and the rhythm of Marrero, Pavageau, and Purnell, present Lewis in an intimate and sympathetic atmosphere. The beautiful Dallas Blues with its low register clarinet lead also brings forth the "gospel-meeting" piano style of Purnell. Red Wing emphasizes Lewis' clarinet spinning melody upon melody on this favorite old theme. The pretty Lou-easy-an-i-a is an original composition by another great New Orleans clarinetist, Joe Darensbourg. Alton Purnell sings a chorus on this one and Lawrence Marrero furnishes a banjo background of distinction. The traditional blues, Careless Love, provides a haunting, melancholy air that stands as a perfect sequel to Lewis's famed Burgundy Street Blues. In addition to the moving clarinet work, listen for the banjo taking over the melody as the other instruments supply a delicate, supporting counterpoint. Bass and piano figures reminiscent of the late Jimmy Yancey are also to be heard.

   The full band recordings present Lewis in an inpromput jam session with Marrero, Pavageau, Robinson and the most distinguished guests, trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen, pianist Lester Santiago, and drummer Paul Barbarine. Allen and Barbarine are two of New Orlean's most famous sons. Both were starred in the great Luis Russel band, which was fronted by Louis Armstrong and King Oliver at various times. The four selections are typical jam session fare, as played by men who fully belong in the same band (which is hardly always the case on jam-session-type recordings). Allen is particularly effective. A man capable of playing with sensitivity and conviction, as well as bravado, in a number of jazz styles, and one who ranks as one of the great showmen of jazz, he plays here with obvious affection for his old home town style.

   Four of these eight selections are previous unreleased. They are the quartet numbers, recorded for Riverside by Pete Miller, ex-president of the New Orleans Jazz Club, under the supervision of Dr. Edmund Souchon. (Four others recorded at the same time form part of Riverside RLP2507.)

   The full-band numbers were part of a series of dates made by Lewis for the Circle label in 1951. All of this material - much of it previously unissued - is scheduled for eventual Riverside release.

   George Lewis can also be heard on:

New Orleans Revival: Bunk Johnson and Kid Ory (RLP 1047)

George Lewis: New Orleans Jazz band and Quartet (RLP 2507)

   Other outstanding releases in the Riverside Contemporary Jazz Series

Lu Watters: 1947 – Yerba Buena Jazz Band, featuring Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, Wally Rose, Bob Helm (RLP 2513)

Bob Helm’s Riverside Roustabouts (RLP 2510)

Wild Bill Davison with the All-Star Stompers (RLP 2514)

Yank Lawson’s Dixieland Jazz, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, James P. Johnson (RLP 2509)

“New Orleans Jazz Party” – Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings (RLP 2505)

“New Orleans Encore” – Red Onion Jazz Band (RLP 2503)

LP produced by Bill Grauer.

Notes by Robert L. Thompson.

Cover art by Robert J. Lee; typographical design by Gene Gogerty.


418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.

bottom of page