George Lewis: La Marseillaise


La Marseillaise


George Lewis (clarinet)


Trios & Bands (American Music AMCD-4)

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George Lewis (clarinet),

Lawrence Marrero (banjo), Alcide Pavageau (bass)


Recorded: New Orleans, May 21, 1945


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

People often talk about the "Spanish tinge" in New Orleans music, but what about the "French tinge"? After all this city—named for Philippe II, Duke of Orléans—was founded by the French and remained under their control far longer than than it was a Spanish territory. George Lewis (1900-1968) rectifies matters with his rendition of "La Marseillaise," a sweet and swinging trio performance from the New Orleans revival of the mid-1940s.

Lewis was a forgotten figure, a dock worker whose musical talents were virtually unknown outside of his home town. But the attention given to his friend Bunk Johnson, the darling of the revival movement, got Lewis a sideman gig and then his own record date. Lewis was unhappy with the results of a session with a larger band, and volunteered to record again—without pay—with this clarinet-banjo-bass trio. The resulting session is one of my most cherished moments from the New Orleans revival, and provides a rare chance to hear traditional clarinet without trumpet and trombone filling up the mix.

Lawrence Marrero and Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (one of my favorite jazz names, that) are a delight to hear. Lewis, for his part, stays close to the melody here, ornamenting it and adding occasional fills. Eric Dolphy it's not, and no circular breathing is required. But this some of the most joyous music in the pantheon of jazz, rarely heard these days by fans who have little patience with New Orleans oldsters. Their loss. This is one more classic track that proves that, in this city, the least well-known names sometimes delivered the best music.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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