Louis Nelson

Big Four, Vol. 1

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During the 1990s, the Miami Folk Arts Society and American Records brought out a sizable series -- at least 17 volumes -- of previously unreleased recordings made by George Louis Francis Zeno, better known as New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis, on tour with his jazz band during the years 1952-1955. Volume five in the series documents half of a concert that took place on March 20, 1953 at Miami University in Oxford, OH. On that occasion the group was billed as George Lewis & His Ragtime Jazz Band. Avery Kid Howard was the trumpeter, Jim Robinson blew the trombone, Alton Purnell was at the piano, ex-prize fighter Laurence Marrero strummed the banjo, Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau plucked his string bass, and Joe Watkins rode the drums. The band sounds happy to be entertaining a responsive and appreciative audience. Lewis, who openly stated during an Ohio State radio interview that he preferred his band have a "an unrehearsed, ragged and rough sound," also spoke candidly in a different interview, regarding his own controversial handling of the clarinet: "It's true I might overpower the horn sometime, when I feel good." Feeling good seems to have been the main order of business on March 23, 1950. With the exception of Lewis' signature "Burgundy Street Blues" each of the old-time melodies is driven under a full head of steam in order to please the audience. Bandmembers laugh, talk, and sing with gusto. The eight-minute version of Sam Theard's "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" is a particularly convincing example of seven men having fun in front of a delighted public.

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