In the mid-twentieth century, American jazz clarinetist George Lewis stood as a symbol of the New Orleans jazz tradition, but his fame came later in life than most. Born George Joseph Francois Louis Zenon in the French Quarter in 1900, Lewis started playing music professionally at age 17, but his primary occupation was that of a stevedore on the New Orleans docks. That all changed in 1942, when he was recommended as a last-minute replacement for the clarinetist for trumpeter Bunk Johnson's debut recording session. He later formed his own eponymous band and went from playing one-nighters in local neighborhood bars to touring internationally and becoming an emissary of traditional New Orleans jazz around the world. By 1961 until his death in 1968, he played to packed houses at New Orleans's shrine to traditional jazz, Preservation Hall, an ediface that Lewis helped to build into the legend that it is today.
The Fabulous George Lewis Band tells the fascinating story of Lewis's dramatic reversal of fortune through a dialogue between Nick Gagliano, Lewis's manager for much of his career, and Barry G, Martyn, a London-born drummer who worked with Lewis and many other New Orleans jazz musicians over his long career. Together, they remember Lewis, offer personal perspectives on the man and his music, and set the record straight on a number of important issues relating to his business and personal life. They reveal how black musicians such as Lewis sought and achieved dignity as artists despite the obstacles that racism placed in their way. Perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate the enduring magnetism of a musician whose idiosyncratic combination of lyrical majesty on his instrument and innate modesty as a performer captured the hearts and minds of jazz lovers the world over.
Accompanied by a CD featuring the best of Lewis's music, The Fabulous George Lewis Band offers a poignant, intimate portrait of one of great jazz musicians of the twentieth century.
Barry Martyn has been a bandleader and jazz drummer for over fifty years. He is the author of five previous books, including Song of the Wanderer and Bill Russell's New Orleans Music. A native of London, England, he has lived in New Orleans most of his life
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