George Lewis

Jammin' in the '50s

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Bunk Johnson, the leader of the New Orleans traditional jazz revivalist movement, passed away in 1949. With its leader gone, and with the retreat of big bands and the emergence of bop, this music was pretty much hanging on by a thread and may have gone off the radar screen if it were not for the likes of George Lewis and those who played with him on this album. Three sessions were compiled from the 1950s, the first two from the Treasury Department-sponsored Dixie Clambake broadcasts and the last from an Art Ford TV program. These performances helped to kick off a further revival of this music in the 1960s. Since then, it has managed to hold its own very nicely. These Lewis-led groups are entirely made up of well-known, veteran New Orleans players, bringing the level of authenticity and playing to about as high as it can get. Sweet Emma Barrett, Percy Humphrey, and Big Jim Robinson, who were later to become part of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, appear on this CD, among others. Sweet Emma does a swinging vocal on "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" with Lewis's clarinet noodlin' behind her. Another good vocal comes from the session where the shouter and trumpet player, Coo Coo Talbert, goes at it on "Bye and Bye." But the cuts with New Orleans jazz session style of playing are the gems of these sessions. A rousing "Royal Garden Blues" has Lewis' clarinet wailing away behind trumpet and trombone and the heavy drumming of Joe Watkins. But it's not all hot jazz. There's the dirge-like "Original Blues," which recalls a street brass band accompanying a funeral procession. In sum, this is the music as it was played in New Orleans by those players who grew up and lived there and were steeped in the tradition and unsullied by the influence of modern jazz. Big Bill Bissonnette's Jazz Crusade label is to be commended for making these seminal sessions available to the jazz public. Recommended.

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