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JAZZ : Preservation Hall Band Goes Right to the Source

July 08, 1993|RANDY LEWIS | Randy Lewis is an assistant Calendar editor for The Times Orange County Edition.

Utter the words "New Orleans jazz" and "clarinet" together and for nine out of 10 people, the bald pate and goateed face of Pete Fountain instantly come to mind.

But though his performances at his French Quarter club are justifiably legendary, Fountain's actual playing style--technically masterful, smooth as a glass table top--is closer to that of such Swing Era masters as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw than to the turn-of-the-century players who gave birth to jazz in Fountain's hometown.

That genuine-article sound, from which all jazz evolved, will be on display Saturday when clarinetist Michael White and the other members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band touch down at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Listen to White, 38, and you'll hear a clarinet sound that's rawer, the emotions clearer, than typical in Dixieland, which often is erroneously considered to be synonymous with New Orleans traditional jazz.

The rhythms are more forceful, virtually every note is articulated, especially in the quicksteps and stomps.

And White's vibrato is as wide and free as the mighty Mississippi, whose curves give the Crescent City its nickname.

"I know I articulate a lot," White said recently during a phone interview from a tour stop in San Franciso. "That's partly because I'm influenced a lot by players like Jimmy Noone, who used a lot of staccato. Generally speaking, I'm trying to get to a more rhythmic concept.

"In fact, I was just talking to Wynton (Marsalis) about that last week," said White, who holds a Ph.D. in foreign-language education and teaches Spanish and Afro-American music at Xavier University in his native New Orleans.

"He said even in his own band, he would like to get the front line, the horns, to play more rhythmically. That's the same thing I'm trying to do with my own group: concentrate on more rhythmic concepts.

"If you listen to (Louis) Armstrong and (Sidney) Bechet, apart from the rest of the band, there was always something rhythmic happening. You could always hear the rhythms implied--they weren't just noodling around" whenever they were playing behind another soloist.

"When you've got a band with seven pieces and three are improvising at the same time," he said, "those counter-rhythms can create a tremendous sense of swing."

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