Wednesday, March 08, 2006


George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers, Mahogany Hall Stomp.

I've been guilty, in recounting postwar jazz history in this blog, of acting as if bebop was the only game in town. That's because in part, this is far from a comprehensive history of anything, and because bebop, for me, is some of the finest jazz ever recorded.

That said, it's time to make amends to the moldy figs.

A substantial "traditional" jazz revival also occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, acting as a counterweight to bop and other modern forms ("Dixieland" emphasized tight ensemble playing over extended soloing, etc.), and one of the happy by-products of Dixieland redux was the rehabilitation of the great George Lewis.

Lewis, who, while younger than his rival on clarinet Sidney Bechet, had a style that seemed to hail from a more distant time, was barely known outside of New Orleans until 1942, when Bunk Johnson worked with him, first on recording sessions and later on tour. When Johnson retired, Lewis took over as bandleader.

Spencer Williams' "Mahogany Hall Stomp" is just one of many hot tracks Lewis recorded in the final two decades of his life. Recorded on April 11, 1955, with Lewis (clarinet), Avery "Kid" Howard on trumpet (who basically recreates, note for note, his solo from a 1929 recording of the same song), Jim Robinson (trombone), Alton Purnell (p), George Guesnon (banjo), Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (b) and Joe Watkins (d).

Unfortunately, most Lewis recordings are currently out of print--you can find "Mahogany Hall" on George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers or on Gary Giddins' compilation Visions of Jazz.

(update) thanks to an anonymous commentor, it turns out lots of Lewis is available on CD after all, on the Jazzology label.

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