Dr. Michael White--A Tribute to Mr. Johnny Dodds
Jazz Gazette - Belgium
"Michael White (born in New Orleans, November 29, 1954) is one of
the few young black musicians in New Orleans playing in the great tradition
of the city. As a youngster he was not aware of the rich musical heritage
of New Orleans although he was related to famous musicians like Willie
and "Papa" John Joseph and Earl Fouché. He only found
out rather late that there was a place like Preservation Hall. The only
link with the tradition were the marching bands occasionally passing by
in the neighborhood. With the help of a fellow student, the sousaphone
player and singer Alton Carson, he became a member of Doc Paulin's Brass
Band, the breeding ground of many young black musicians in the City. Later
on he also became a member of Danny Barker's Fairview Baptist Church Band.
Having an inquiring mind, he wanted to find out where this wonderful music
came from and began to listen to records. His first idol was George Lewis.
Around 1979 he attracted the attention of some of the veteran musicians
like Kid Sheik, Louis Nelson and Kid Thomas. Completely in accordance
with the tradition, they gave the young talent a helping hand and started
to hire him for little jobs.
The first time I heard Michael White was at a private party in the courtyard
of Sue Hall (Louis Nelson's companion) on Royal Street and I'll never
forget the impact he made on me playing a wonderful version of George
Lewis' Burgundy Street Blues. I wasn't the only one who was impressed.
The applause was so thunderous that he had to play an encore! I spoke
to him that night and became aware I was in contact not only with a great
musician but with a real crusader for the music as well. Eventually we
became good friends and I followed Michael's musical career very closely.
Soon he was playing at Preservation Hall with a.o. the bands of Kid Sheik
and Kid Thomas. Growing as a musician and listening to all the records
he could lay hands on, the influence of George Lewis became less dominant
and Michael developed a personal style wherein one could hear traces of
Willie Humphrey, Sidney Bechet and, most of all, the legendary Johnny
Dodds. Bill Bissonnette, in the liner notes of this CD, remembers the
first time he heard Michael from the carriage way at Preservation Hall,
being in New Orleans again in the early eighties after a 15 years interval:
"There was one sound I didn't recognize as being one of the old-timers.
And yet it sounded even older than those old-timers. I consulted the discography
I carry around in my brain to try to identify this sound and the answer
that came up was hopelessly impossible. My mind told me I was listening
to Johnny Dodds!" When Bill finally entered the room where the musicians
were playing he discovered, to his great surprise, that the great clarinet
sounds were produced by a young black musician. The new Jazz Crusade label
wasn't born yet at that time, but Bill was already then thinking: "If
I still had Jazz Crusade.White does Dodds!"
In the intervening years between that day and this recording date Michael
acquired a loyal following by local jazz fans and visitors to the city.
I remember many standing ovations at the Jazz & Heritage Festival.
As a real crusader for the music he also gave lectures on New Orleans
jazz, usually accompanied by his band who played the musical illustrations
to what he told. He also established a general jazz course at Xavier University.
An accidental meeting with Wynton Marsalis, the world famous New Orleans
born modern jazz trumpet player, had very important consequences. Michael
and Wynton became close friends and the latter developed a sincere interest
in his musical roots, hitherto as good as unknown to him. This interest
is still working today. Recently I saw on television an interview with
one of Wynton's musicians and heard the guy say: "With Wynton we
not only play modern jazz, we have to learn to play traditional New Orleans
jazz as well." For Michael White the friendship with Marsalis opened
doors. He has been leading bands composed of New Orleans musicians at
Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York. They played concerts, with
immense success, featuring the music of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver
and the New Orleans revival. Recently he was at the North Sea Jazz festival
in Holland (mostly devoted to modern jazz!) playing a tribute to Sidney
The first one to record Michael White was an English record producer (504
Records), Mike Dine, like Big Bill, another one of those indefatigable,
loyal people who care for the continuity of the great New Orleans tradition.
A couple of CD's followed on the big, international Antilles label and
on one of them Wynton Marsalis played on a couple of tracks as a distinguished
guest. And now we have this CD on the small but so important (for our
music this is!) Jazz Crusade label. Bill Bissonnette has the knack of
turning his dreams into reality, although it sometimes takes years to
do so. "White Does
Dodds" has become "Dr. Michael White In A Tribute to Mr. Johnny
Dodds". Why "Dr.?" you probably wonder. Well, Michael White
has a Ph.D. in Spanish and is a full professor at Xavier University in
New Orleans. From the day he obtained this degree, Alonzo Stewart, the
drummer with the Kid Thomas Band at Preservation Hall always proudly announced
him as "Doctor Michael White on clarinet" and the Dr. stuck
on him ever since.
So what do we have here: a tribute from a third (or is it fourth?) generation
New Orleans jazz musician to one of the creators of the style. An attempt
to imitate Dodds? No, not at all. The repertory is completely Dodds',
but Michael plays his part in his own very personal way. The band Big
Bill put together is an international one. On trumpet we have an Englishman,
Norman Thatcher (related to the "Iron Lady"?), one of the finest
traditional jazz players in Europe. On piano we have Emil Mark who usually
plays banjo with Big Bill's own Easy Riders. On bass - a tower of strength
- we have a Canadian, Colin Bray. Colin is a doctor in geology. Bill probably
thought that with two doctors in the house they couldn't go wrong! On
drums we have Big Bill himself, returning for the econd time recently
to his second instrument. In the sixties Bill always wisely played drums
when Big Jim Robinson himself was around. This quintet recorded this CD
in George Buck's Audiophile Studios in New Orleans. Richard Bird was responsible
for the excellent sound quality.
One of the most obvious qualities of Michael's playing is passion. Those
who say that an intellectual can't play this folk music with the right
feeling should listen again! His clarinet sounds bluesy and hot all the
time, catching the spirit of Johnny Dodds' style in an exemplary way.
Norman Thatcher demonstrates again how beautiful a trumpet can sound in
the middle and low register. His tone is full and warm. Emil Mark plays
the simple piano style we associate with the period in which Dodds recorded.
Colin's bass playing turns this CD also into a tribute to the great bass
player Bill Johnson, who played on many of the original Johnny Dodds recordings.
Big Bill plays drums in the old New Orleans tradition, with beautifully
executed press rolls and exciting accents.
As expected, the music as a definite twenties flavor with a lot of breaks
and stop time choruses, something that was more or less lost in later
developments of the music. Most of the tunes from Dodds' repertory were
based on the blues. This does not result in monotony because in those
days they wrote blues numbers that had a well-defined melody. Also the
tempos vary a lot, from slow and melancholic to fast and joyous. I find
it very difficult to indicate highlights on this CD. If I have to, I'd
say that this rendition of "Loveless Love" is my favorite track.
It also illustrates how far this quintet sometimes drifts away from the
original Johnny Dodds recording. While Dodds played this tune rather up-tempo,
Michael and his men take it in a relaxed slow tempo. The number starts
with trumpet and rhythm for two choruses. The mood is tender and sad.
The trumpet sounds warm and reflective. Norman plays some beautiful variations
on this well-known theme. Michael holds on to this mood and plays two
choruses with rhythm, the first one in the low register, the second one
in a higher register incorporating very cleverly the famous "Snag
It"-break. The next chorus is ensemble with Michael leading while
Norman plays some great DeDe Pierce licks.The tension rises, the drums
become ore prominent and the music more passionate. One piano chorus relieves
the tension a little bit and prepares us for the two final ensemble choruses
with the clarinet still leading and the trumpet making eloquent comments
and the number ends in an exciting climax. This is really a gem! I don't
need to tell you that this CD belongs in every New Orleans collection!
- Marcel Joly
Jazz `N Blues - England
This CD I approached with some trepidation as on a number of previous
albums I have found Michael White's clarinet playing a little insipid
but here he plays with plenty of spirit and is well supported by the rest
of the band including the at times slightly wary trumpet of Norman Thatcher
and the exuberant drumming of Bill Bissonnette. Although to my ears White's
clarinet is not similar to Johnny Dodds, do not let that put you off from
what is an enjoyable album.
- Jerry Brown
Once in awhile you listen to a CD of an artist or group, and you just
know, "This is it!" Thank you so much for Dr. Michael White's
CD! An amazing musical performance. Not only the leading clarinet, but
also the trumpet that plays second so well that it sometimes comes first.
And also the rhythm section: you on drums, bass and piano - what a team!
Superb!! In France they say, "chapau," that means I take my
hat off for you.
- Pim Wolvekamp - Netherlands
Just a New Year Greeting and to say how much I am enjoying JCCD-3052,
Dr Michael White's Tribute to Johnny Dodds. Norman Thatcher's trumpet
playing is such a joy and so relaxed. He seems to have influenced you
to an almost restrained session on the drums! Altogether a lovely CD.
- Ian Bennett - England
Boxell's Jazz Website-New Zealand
Cd producer, Big Bill Bissonnette, tells that he first heard Dr. Michael
White at Preservation Hall, New Orleans. Waiting to get in, he listened
to the band playing and started to mentally tick off the players. When
he got to the clarinet player he came up with the impossible answer that
it was the long dead jazz maestro, Johnny Dodds. Getting into the hall,
he expected to see a player from Europe, where classical traditional jazz
is best preserved. What he saw was Dr. Michael White, a man who proves
that not all African-Americans have forgotten their musical heritage.
I had come to the same happy conclusion some while back. I had complained
to my Swedish mate, Bengt, about the lack of young black American traditional
jazzmen and he had sent me a tape of Michael and his Original Liberty
Jazz Band of New Orleans so that I would know that all is not lost.
Now Johnny Dodds is my favorite clarinetist from the classical jazz period
and, although not slavishly imitating Johnny, Michael White is very much
in his style. Match him with one of my favorite horn plays, England's
Norman Thatcher, and my joy knows no bounds. I refuse to single out any
tracks of this album for mention, as the skilful and beautiful playing
on all of them blew me away. One wet afternoon I played this CD through
four times without stopping and without getting bored by listening to
it. If you don't buy this CD you will be missing out on one of life's
delights: New Orleans jazz played, as it should be, by those that love
- Geoff Boxell
Jazzreview.com - Canada
Johnny Dodds (1892-1940) was one of the most important early New Orleans
clarinetists. He was primarily self taught although he took some lessons
from Lorenzo Tio. Dodds gigged around New Orleans with Kid Ory, Freddie
Keppard and Fate Marable but his reputation really developed about 1924,
in Chicago with Joe "King" Oliver and later with Louis Armstrong.
Johnny Dodds was a great asset to the popularity of Armstrong's Hot 5
and Hot 7 in the Windy City. Oddly, he made only one trip to New York
for a record date and returned immediately to Chicago. Although there
were other great New Orleans clarinetists at the time including Jimmy
Noone, Johnny Dodds became a leading influence on later generations of
Dr. Michael White is a professor of Afro-American and Spanish music at
Xavier University. He is a brilliant larinetist and director having performed
at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1997 and has directed a number of "Jazz
at Lincoln Center" concerts featuring New Orleans music. He is one
of the major "preservationists" of the style of jazz developed
in the Crescent City and is truly admired by his fellow musicians and
aficionados of early jazz.
Michael White makes no attempt , on this CD , to faithfully imitate the
sound and style of Dodds. He successfully recreates the "spirit and
inventiveness" of his mentor in a manner that clearly illustrates
why Johnny Dodds is still a prime influence on later clarinetists. Dr.
White enjoys the honest and exciting accompaniment of a great little band
featuring the British born trumpeter, Norman Thatcher, pianist Emil Mark
of the Easy Riders Jazzband, olin Bray, bassist with Canada's Hot Five
Jazzmakers and Big Bill Bissonette, the producer of this session, on drums.
Bill is a great practitioner of New Orleans drumming in the tradition
of the late Sammy Penn.
Michael White and the group weave their merry way through eleven hot tunes
that brought Dodds to fame including Wild Man Blues, Bull Fiddle Blues,
Loveless Love and Blue Clarinet Stomp. In short, this is a memorable session
featuring some of the very best "classic style" players on the
scene. In spite of the age of the compositions, there is nothing stale
on this CD and I recommend it strongly for any jazz fan. Dr. White is
a phenomenal player in the company of truly competent cohorts. While you're
at the record shop, you'll probably want to pick up a reissue of some
original Hot 5 and Hot 7 material too. Top Marks!!!
- Richard Bourcier
All About Jazz.com - U. S. A. - Jan
Dr. Michael White is a professor of Spanish and Afro-American music at
Xavier University. But his real job is working hard to make sure that
the New Orleans jazz tradition stays alive and well through writings,
lectures and performing. Selecting soul mate fellow clarinet player Johnny
Dodds as the subject for this CD, White replicates tunes Dodds played
with either his own group or with one of the many he was a member of during
his performing years. The older brother of drummer Baby Dodds, he was
largely self taught although he is purported to have taken some lessons
from master New Orleans clarinet teacher, Lorenzo Tio.
Although not as technically adroit as other New Orleans clarinet players
like Jimmie Noone or George Lewis, Dodds possessed a unique and memorable
tone which White faithfully recreates. The group's rendition of "Loveless
Love", which Dodds put to wax in 1927, is pure traditional jazz.
The solemn trumpet of Norman Thatcher, both in solo and in unison with
White's soulful clarinet, makes this cut one of the highlights of the
album. There are some rarities here as well like "Melancholy",
"Blue Clarinet Stomp" and "Bull Fiddle Blues", all
of which Dodds wrote and for which he was virtually the only performer.
Discographies reveal no other recordings of these pieces by anyone else
from that period. The set includes "Wild Man Blues" which Dodds
recorded with his Black Bottom Stompers and also with Louis Armstrong's
White gets A-one support from players who share his admiration for the
New Orleans style. In addition to Thatcher, Emil Mark's piano and Colin
Bray's bass are synchronized with White's interpretation of the music
Dodds wrote and played. Big Bill Bissonnette, the driving force behind
Jazz Crusade Records, is here playing the typical New Orleans style of
drums. Solid stuff and recommended.
- Dave Nathan
Doctor Jazz - December 2000
Clarinet player Dr. Michael White is one of the few relatively young
musicians still playing in the old tradition of the city of New Orleans.
He had the opportunity to play with some of the pioneers of the New Orleans
revival like Kid Sheik Cola, Louis Nelson and Kid Thomas Valentine.At
first White was very much influenced by George Lewis, but later on also
Johnny Dodds became one of his favorites. So now he has recorded a tribute
to Dodds. No imitation of his style, but interpretation. White's playing
is, just like Dodds', full of feeling with a little of Dodds' sound in
it. Norman Thatcher plays in a very relaxed way with a warm tone, different
to what he did on his own CD (JCCD-3028) where he was doing a somewhat
cool Beiderbecke. The rhythm section provides the right, unobstrusive
support. There is quite a lot of blues on this CD, all with a wonderful
feeling for this music. The playing time is somewhat short (50 minutes)
but the music is great!"
- Gerard Bielderman
Brian Harvey’s Radio Programme—the Internet
What an excellent idea - a CD revisiting eleven compositions first made famous by the great New Orleans clarinetist Johnny Dodds. And who better from today's leading jazzmen to take the role of Dodds than New Orleans resident and avid Dodds scholar Dr. Michael White. Having heard the good Doctor at close quarters on several occasions in the Crescent City and knowing of this recording, I was worried that he might not prove powerful enough to carry the task through. He is however a revelation, proving himself to have hidden powers of not only superb Dodds-style improvisation but also rhythmic propulsion. He pushes the ensembles here along with great exciting vigour. That and Norman Thatcher's very fine totally sympathetic trumpet work make this a CD to hear again and again. And a word for the rhythm section - Emil Mark on piano, Colin Bray on string bass and Big Bill Bissonnette on drums - they are just fine - very supportive -totally apposite. Bravo gentlemen.
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