This afternoon’s lecture-recital in Shaver Theater took no shame in holding ClarinetFest 2014 to its surroundings, Louisiana! The very best of early New Orleans jazz was both discussed and demonstrated by Dr. Michael White and his peers in his presentation “The Clarinet in Early New Orleans Jazz: Function, Style, Sound and Spirit.” White’s versatile style of presentation, where he would speak and then, clarinet in hand, immediately play musical examples, made for a wholly entertaining and informative hour.
White began his hour with a performance by the ‘Dr. Michael White Quartet’, consisting of himself on clarinet, along with collaborative players on trumpet, banjo, and bass. He proceeded forward by addressing some common misconceptions of New Orleans jazz, including its common misattribution to Dixieland. Dr. White was masterful in describing the historical and political foundations of New Orleans jazz and improvisation, mentioning it at one point as one form of important individual expression for African-Americans in the South prior to the civil rights movement that would come later in the mid-century.
The bulk of his discussions then centered on specific individuals who were influential in developing a recognizable style of New Orleans jazz clarinet playing, as well as some of the common improvisational tools that may have been made more definitive by their playing. Dr. White skillfully executed many of these techniques, sometimes with the assistance of his band, and at other times by himself. At one point, a full work with vocals was performed, with the trumpet player showcasing his outstanding voice at the microphone. As a whole, Dr. White’s lecture brought the clarinet home to roost in Louisiana, and provided an outstanding primer on the New Orleans style for those (including this author) with little or no background in the subject.
–Notes by Joel Auringer
Joel Auringer is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He currently maintains a private studio in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas metroplex, and will begin doctoral study at the University of North Texas in the fall.