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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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GEORGE LEWIS

Jass at the Ohio Union - The
Historic George Lewis 1954 Concert

Upbeat URCD244D

 

 

CD 1

1. Introduction/Basin Street Blues

2. Beautiful Ohio

3. Collegiate

4. Mama Don’t ’low [sic]

5. Climax Rag

6. Lord, Lord

7. High Society

8. If Ever I Cease to Love

9. The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise

10. Maryland, My Maryland

11. Funeral Sequence:

a. Just a Little While to Stay Here

b. Flee as a Bird

c. You Rascal, You

12. Burgundy Street Blues

 

CD 2

1. Over the Waves

2. Bugle Boy March

3. Doctor Jazz

4. Red Wing

5. Sensation Rag

6. Corrine, Corrina

7. Ice Cream

8. When the Saints Go Marching In*

9. Chimes Blues*

10. Muskrat Ramble

11. Finale/Basin Street Blues

* These two titles are actually reversed on the CD itself, #8 being Chimes Blues and #9 the Saints.

 

George Lewis – Clarinet, leader, speaker (CD 2, track 11)

Avery ‘Kid’ Howard – Trumpet (all except CD 1, track 12), vocal (CD 1, track 6; CD 2, tracks 7, 8)

Jim Robinson – Trombone (all except CD 1, track 12)

Lawrence Marrero – Banjo (all except CD 1, tracks 11a, 11b, 11c), bass drum (CD 1, tracks 11a, 11b, 11c)

Alton Purnell, Piano (all except CD 1, tracks 11a, 11b), vocal (CD 1, track 9)

Alcide ‘Slow Drag’ Pavageau – String bass (all except CD 1, tracks 11a, 11b, 11c)

Joe Watkins – Drums, vocal (CD 1, track 4; CD 2, tracks 3, 6, 7)

Recorded at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, on Mar. 3, 1954.

 

By now the George Lewis story is fairly well known, especially among those who are fans of traditional jazz, particularly that of the New Orleans style. He was unknown outside of New Orleans until the early 1940’s when he recorded with Bunk Johnson and later appeared with him at an engagement at the Stuyvesant Casino, New York, in 1945, by which time the traditional jazz revival was underway. While in New York the Johnson/Lewis band recorded for the major labels Victor and Decca, further disseminating their jazz and establishing their names.

Returning to New Orleans, the Lewis band, minus Johnson but with other trumpet players substituting, stayed together and was featured in the June 6, 1950 issue of Look magazine, which further burnished the band’s reputation. Touring followed, and the concert contained on these two discs was recorded during one of these tours, less than a decade after the triumphant New York “debut.” By this time Lewis was one of the leading exponents, if not the leading one, of the New Orleans branch of the revival.

This recording makes clear why Lewis occupied such a position. The band is a seven-piece juggernaut, barreling through all of the up-tempo pieces and steeping the slower-paced blues pieces in sentiment, not sentimentalism or bathos. The former are exemplified in Mama Don’t ’low where the audience roars its approval, or Ice Cream where again the audience responds loudly, undoubtedly urged on by Jim Robinson dancing around the stage, waving his white handkerchief in their direction, making Joe Watkins’ four-bar tag at the end almost obligatory. Even on a blues like Corrine, Corrina, we hear Joe Watkins exhorting Jim Robinson to “Slide, Jim, Slide!” and George Lewis to “Blow, George, Blow!” as they solo. And the audience responds in kind to all of this exuberance on the stand.

The audience, somewhat remarkable by today’s standards, is a young, white one, composed of college students from Ohio State. (As such, they rather dutifully clap time on the beat. Even when led initially by one of the musicians to clap on the off-beat, as soon as he stops clapping to play, they drift back to on the beat!) But they certainly do respond to the music—and there is nary a guitar in sight.

At the time of this concert, most of the tunes in the play lists of these two CD’s were fresh. Even When the Saints Go Marching In had not yet become the war horse it was later to become. And most of the tunes were to become standards in the revivalist bands’ repertoires. Indeed, many of the bands in the U.K. (in particular Ken Colyer’s), Europe, and even Japan were to take the Lewis band as a template or at least point of departure. And listening to these recordings, one can easily see why that would be so. For sheer excitement the Lewis band is high on the scale—one would be hard pressed to find a hotter band. At the time of this recording, unfortunately Kid Howard was having lip problems and hence cannot play with his usual verve. Even so, his playing is more than adequate, and the others are all in top form.

Since this is a live recording, not done under optimum conditions, there are a few minor problems, such as sound balance being a little off, starts missing a note or two, and the rather disconcerting (to me) abrupt ending of some tracks, probably to eliminate audience reaction. (But those tracks where we are permitted to hear the response convincingly demonstrate just how well the band was being received.)

While many fans of this type of jazz may already have the Storyville double CD issue or the Disc Jockey double LP issue of this concert, this current CD issue, part of Upbeat’s Lewis reissue program, has the benefit of the digital transfers. Those new to Lewis could hardly have a better introduction. And all of us who are contemporaries of those who were in the audience that night can sit back and indulge in some nostalgia for some hour and three quarters. Lewis himself said that his was “the last of the real New Orleans jazz bands,” and that was no idle claim.

Bert Thompson



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