MusicnThe Delicate Giant of the ClarinetnTom Bethell: George Lewis: A Jazzmannfrom New Orleans; Universitynof California Press; Berkeley, California,nNew York, London.nby Craig WyattnThis is not the first biography ofnNew Orleans clarinetist George Lewisn(1900-68), surpassed perhaps only bynLouis Armstrong in prominence as anfocus of interest in the great endemicnmusic which evolved in New Orleans.nAuthor Bethell defers to Dorothy Tait,nwho under the pseudonym Ann Fairbairn,nwrote Call Him George, and evennweaves her into his own narrative. Butnfor the most part he keeps to his ownnpurpose, distinct from Mss Tait’s: annattempt at a scholarly, rather than subjective,nbiography and analysis of thenmusic George Lewis and his contemporariesnplayed.nThe scholarly detail is a strength ofnthe book, yet also a weakness. Thus wenhave not only a definitive discography,nbut entire texts of interviews, by thenauthor and others, and of letters andndocuments, published and unpublished.nWe have addresses of houses wherenLewis lived as well as played in NewnOrleans, dates and details of when henplayed or recorded with this or thatnmusician or band. Some of the selectionnseems arbitrary and of questionablenvalue. But some of it is illuminating andnprecious. Thus, Lewis’ mother, interviewedntwo years before her death at agen96:n”. . . it was Kirby’s where he got thatnlittle ten-cent flute, and that’s wherenhe start. He got that music from thatnlittle ten-cent flute, and I never gavenMr. Wyatt is art and entertainmentneditor of the Rockf ord Register Star innRockford, Illinois.nhim a clarinet. Ten cents, that’s all Inever spent for his music . . . Sometimesnhe drive me crazy. But I wantednhim to play because he wanted to bena musicianer…”nAnd Lewis, describing his life duringnthe Depression:n”I would play till 3 o’clock in thenmorning at the Kingfish, and then Income home and go to bed; get up atnsix, and get myself ready to catch thentruck to go to work on the WP A. AndnI work till 2 o’clock every day, orn2:30, and I would get home roundnthree, sometimes I got home later.nThen I would eat, and lie down andngo to sleep till 6:30, and get readynto go to work. Because at that timendog et dog, and you had to be onnyour Ps and Qs. If you didn’t yournjob was gone, even though they wasnonly paying a dollar with tips.”nBy this method the people, the placen—New Orleans—and the epoch arenevoked. So is the music; one of the joyousnsurprises here is the discovery ofnhow articulate these musicians werenabout their art. A long interview withnLewis, particularly enlightening aboutnthe music, is included as an appendix.nOther material throughout the booknthoroughly illuminates the technicalnand aesthetic content of the New Orleansnjazz and, indeed, can guide one’snlistening to it. An extended commentarynby cornetist Johnny Wiggs, who heardnthe Lewis band play in the mid-40s,nnot only fixes the character of the musicnthe band played, but the main characteristicsnof the whole genre: bass playernAlcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau’sndislike of pianists who played “dischords,”nthe “thick, wide tone” of banjoistnLawrence Marrero, and Jim Robinson’snwell-wrought solos, which aren”nothing but background music. Hennncomes from an era when solos were notnused.”nWiggs points out the uniqueness ofnLewis, “which is a great thing consideringnhow many clarinet players copy eachnother.” He mentions his “bends, hisnbig, peculiar tone, his curlicues, the verynbig low register tone he used to getnwhen he was younger—a giant volumenas powerful as a cornet—the runs henwould play when he didn’t know thenchord (or it could have been the chordnhe heard) …” This reviewer wouldnonly add Lewis’ strong sense of tonalnas well as melodic counterpoint, hisnskill in knowing when to weave a linenwith the cornet in the high register andnwhen to drop to the low register in contrastnwith the cornet’s line.nBethell has also judiciously includedncommentaries on the social and philosophicalncontext of what was played bynLewis and his New Orleans compatriots.nHe correctly sees it as music woven intonthe fabric of life in the town, with bandsnaccompanying draftees to the train, funeralncorteges, playing for holiday parades,ndances, and other festive occasions;nit was not an abstract or remotenart form. It had its roots in Europeannforms and culture abroad in New Orleans’nunique melting-pot: its evolutionnfollowed the path of declining fortunesnfor blacks from Reconstruction, throughnthe turn of the century, and into thenera when Lewis flourished. Here is onenof Bethell’s most convincing syntheses:nhis “revisionist” argument that the musicnwhich evolved among New Orleansnblacks was not a direct well-spring fromnthe musicians’ African cultural milieu,nbut rather a “liberation” from the Europeannforms. This “liberation” ironicallynwas a corollary of blacks no longer havingnaccess to that culture through educationnand social contact. The musicni29nChronicles of Culturen