Dr. Michael White: A Song for George Lewis

Dr. Michael White celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary New Orleans jazz clarinetist George Lewis on this CD. Fellow Crescent City clarinetist White rejoices in his mentor’s spirit by choosing material that represents different periods of Lewis’ prolific recording career.

White includes Lewis’ signature piece, the elegant “Burgundy Street Blues,” which drips with Spanish moss and humid nights; White’s title cut is reminiscent of “Burgundy Street Blues,” with its melancholy melody.

The album kicks off in a lighter mood, however, with the popular dance band number “Big Chief Battle Axe,” which Lewis recorded with Bunk Johnson. Native American rhythms and melodies start and infiltrate the tune while it also soars in classic New Orleans style. In on the fun are trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who takes a vocal bow on “Louisian-i-a,” and drummer Shannon Powell.

“Bugle Boy March” offers a change of pace and demonstrates jazz’s early creators’, and White’s bandmembers’, ingenuity in bringing improvisation and syncopation to standard marches. This is joyous second-lining music with Lucien Barbarin’s trombone getting down and dirty against the rhythm set by bassist Kerry Lewis, banjoist Detroit Brooks and Powell.

Ensemble playing is at the heart of traditional jazz, and these musicians, who have performed often together, weave with a joyful ease. A Song for George Lewis remembers the legend not by imitation but rather in the spirit of improvisation.