Born: November 29, 1954 Primary Instrument: Clarinet
Dr. Michael White - clarinet
Although he grew up in the jazz-saturated environment of New Orleans and several of his relatives played with early jazz greats King Oliver and Kid Ory, Dr. Michael White's primary musical influence as a youth was his aunt, who played classical clarinet. White played clarinet in the noted St. Augustine's School Marching Band, but at the end of his college days he joined the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band led by Danny Barker, a banjoist and elder statesman of New Orleans traditional jazz. White also played with Doc Paulin's Brass Band, marching in funeral parades and exploring historical recordings of such band leaders as Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, and George Lewis. During this period he had the opportunity to play alongside more than three dozen traditional jazz musicians born between 1890 and 1910.
Although they had grown up within blocks of one another, Michael White and Wynton Marsalis had not met until the 1980s, when White sparked Marsalis’ interest in the music of the traditional jazz elders of New Orleans. This resulted in the seminal recording “Majesty of the Blues,” on which White is featured, and which marks Marsalis' turn toward appreciation and performance of the traditional repertoire of New Orleans jazz.
Since then, White has served as a resident artist with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and has been named as a Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Xavier University, where he taught Spanish for more than 20 years. He also performed with a number of musical ensembles including the Young Tuxedo Brass Band and his own Original Liberty Jazz Band.
In 2005, his home was flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and he lost a huge collection of historical documents, recordings, and musical instruments. While living first in his car, being displaced in Houston, and then in a FEMA trailer, White gradually put his musical and personal life back together. He continues to teach and perform, commenting: ...one of the lessons that I learned, and I try to teach this to my students, is that one of the values of listening to jazz, especially New Orleans jazz, is not just for the danceable nature and the great music that it is, but also because of the lessons that it teaches and that can be used today. And one of those great lessons is that you have to improvise. You have to be able to take what comes and make something good happen with it. White recently released his first post Katrina recording of mainly original compositions entitled “Blue Crescent, ” on Basin Street Records.
The following is an excerpt of a review by John Swenson from offbeat magazine:
It would be hard to overstate the significance of “Blue Crescent” in the history of New Orleans music. At the moment when it appears that the last remaining treasures of the musical legacy left to this city by the inventors of jazz may have been utterly lost, Dr. Michael White has produced what must surely be one of the greatest examples of New Orleans traditional jazz ever recorded. Its genius lies in the fact that it is conceptually married to the form and style of the great early 20th Century New Orleans jazz musicians, yet it is a freshly imagined contemporary expression. Though White and his counterparts are playing traditional jazz, they are in the present moment artistically.