Jazz in the Classic New Orleans Tradition by the George Lewis Quartet and Band
Quartet (Side 1): George Lewis (cl) Alton Purnell (p, vcl) (except for Salty Dog vocal by Edmond Souchon); Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide (Slow Drag) Pavageau (b)
New Orleans; September 25, 1953
New Orleans Jazz Band (Side 2) Alvin Alcorn (tp) Bill Matthews (tb) Lewis (cl Lester Santiago (p) Marrero (bj) Pavageau (b) Paul Barbarin (drs)
New Orleans; August, 1951
SIDE 1 Quartet
1. StBand. Phillips Street Breakdown (2:15) (George Lewis)
2. Salty Dog (2:44) (Charlie Jackson)
3. The Old Rugged Cross (3:02) (traditional)
4. Red Wing (2:58) (Kerry Mills)
5. Lou-easy-an-i-a (4:08) (Joe Darensbourg)
6. Careless Love (5:05) (traditional)
SIDE 2 Band
1. Weary Blues (3:21) (Artie Mathews)
2. Bill Bailey (3:18) (Hughie Cannon)
3. Tin Roof Blues (3:05) (New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
4. Dipper Mouth Blues (3:16) (Oliver-Armstrong)
5. It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary (3:12) (Judge-Williams)
6. Bugle Call Rag (1:57) (Pettis-Myers-Schoebel)
Traditional jazz - the strictly 'righteous' sound that remains faithful to its New Orleans origins - 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 a very substantial share of the credit for this phenomenon must be awarded to the deceptively slightly-built (no more than 110 pounds, but with a full share of stamina) and modest clarinetist featured on this LP.
GEORGE LEWIS, who was born back in 1900, has enjoyed a rather remarkable personal resurgence in recent years. He first attracted wide-spread attention as an important part of the group with which Bunk Johnson recorded, beginning in 1942, and which shared in the excitement and glory that followed Bunk's triumphal New York debut in 1945. But, subsequently, Lewis returned his New Orleans home and found himself back in the old, rather hit-or-miss pattern of weekend jobs, one-shots and short runs that had been the inevitable way of life for most traditionalist jazzmen in that city for quite a few 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 nor by the growing number of groups of younger white musicians engaged in carrying on the early-jazz traditions. They were fully aware of the considerable talents of George Lewis, the richness of his tone and directness of his style. They prized his few records, and argued over what relative position he should be assigned in the all-time hierarchy of 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 result in the way of thing like steady work.
Then, as the '50s got underway, 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 have surprised even his most devoted fans. By now George Lewis is firmly established as a major jazz figure in his home town and just about everywhere else. He has led a band on several successful tours of the East, the Midwest, and 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 finally coming around to recognizing the warmth and appeal of George Lewis and his brand of jazz.
Lewis is by no means an elderly relic, brought back from retirement 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 in the '40s was basically a group that had been playing together for years under George's leadership. Among other things, this led many people to the inaccurate assumption that the whole band was in Bunk's advanced age bracket.) Lewis actually belongs to a "lost generation" in jazz; men who were barely starting out as musicians when Storyville was closed and the main current of jazz moved northward, but who chose to stay on in New Orleans. For more than two decades, the jazz world tended to think of that city as a sort of musical ghost town, with a past but no present or future. But there was still activity going on down there during all those years, even if not very strongly at times. George Lewis and his colleagues, even though they often had to scratch out a living at a variety of non-musical jobs (the frail-looking Lewis has worked as a stevedore), 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 old Storyville days. For these men had been content to keep playing along those general lines, but in accordance with their own taste. Feeling no compulsion to honor early jazz merely by doggedly rigid adherence, they evolved a form that is very accurately described as "in the tradition." Not slavish imitation, certainly not radically different; having a life and freshness of its own, but clearly a most direct descendant of very early jazz.
The repertoire here can be taken as reflecting this style. It is largely, but hardly exclusively, a matter of jazz standards. Tin Roof, Dipper Mouth, Salty Dog and the like are here; but there are also originals in the traditional vein (St. Phillip Street, Lou-easy-an-i-a), a spiritual (Old Rugged Cross), a couple of very old pop tunes (Red Wing, Bill Bailey), and even a World War I marching song (Tipperary).
In the band numbers, Lewis is joined by some highly accomplished local talent, who had notable of which is drummer Paul Barbarin, who had played with Louis Armstrong and King Oliver up North, returned home in the '40s, and later led a very successful New Orleans-style small band of his own. The quartet tunes offer a rhythm section with which George has worked closely for a very long time, and give him a rather rare opportunity to take off at extended length as a solo horn.
The six band selections in this album were originally released on the Circle label, but have not previously been issued by Riverside. The quartet members were recorded for Riverside by Pete Miller, ex-president of the New Orleans Jazz Club, under the supervision of Dr. Edmond Souchon. Three of them are also included one each of the two ten-inch Lewis LPs in the Riverside catalogue (RLPs2507 and 2512) together with different full-band selections.
Other recent recordings of jazz in a traditional vein include such twelve-inch LPs as:
Ragtime! – Tony Parenti’s Ragtime Band and Ragpickers Trio (RLP 12-205)
Joe Sullivan: New solos by an Old Master (RLP 12-202)
Dixieland in Hi-Fi: Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings (RLP 12-210)
Riverside’s Jazz Archives Series of reissues of classic real material includes, on twelve-inch LP:
Young Louis Armstrong (RLP 12-101)
“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
FATS WALLER: Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-103)
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover designed by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.