As a good example of what Dixieland is supposed to sound like this record works fairly well, but as an example of George Lewis‘ skills, this probably isn’t the best, or worse for that matter. The ensemble playing on here is good and true to the style, but poor George is out of tune on many of these songs. I’m sure proper tuning is not of the utmost importance in early jazz, but when its as easily noticeable as it is on ‘Jerusalem Blues’, then it does distract somewhat from the performances. Still, due to this band’s ability to properly interpret early 1900’s Dixieland in the year 1953 (released in 1958), this record makes for a great document on how this style is supposed to sound.
Other than funk and reggae, its hard to imagine a style that has suffered more at the hands of enthusiastic under-skilled amateurs than Dixieland. When played properly Dixieland is far more similar to original New Orleans jazz than all those awful noisy tacky Dixieland wannabes would lead you to believe. When George and his guys play, you don’t get those exaggerated swooping note climbs, the overly enthusiastic bursts in volume and the cacophonous ensemble improvisations where no one sounds like they are listening to each other. Instead, George Lewis and his New Orleans Ragtime Band play early jazz that is subtle, sophisticated, ironic and slyly humorous: which is what early jazz is supposed to sound like.
Listening to this record has given me a much greater interest in pursuing other true practitioners of the Dixieland style. If your main exposure to Dixieland is tacky guys in straw hats who play at your local town’s heritage festival, give this record a chance. Sure George is a little out of tune here and there, but this is still very charming music that reflects a time and culture that will never return.