New book on George Lewis.
- View SourceThe Fabulous George Lewis Band: 'The Inside Story' by Barry Martyn & Nick Gagliano is the transcription of several interviews that Martyn conducted with Gagliano who managed the Lewis band from the late forties to the mid-fifties when Dorothy Tate took over that role. On the down side, the book is perhaps too purely a literal transcription and makes, in places, for some tedious reading. It's unfortunate that no-one thought to commission an editor.
Gagliano's account does give an invaluable insight into how George Lewis worked as a musician. Having heard the band at Manny's Tavern, Gagliano secured a one-off gig for them at a dance for Roman Catholic students at Tulane University. Impressed with his organisational skills, George invited Gagliano to act as manager for him. George's motivation seems to have been to find more lucrative gigs playing at colleges, and at parties for "society" people and he surmised that Gagliano, a working class American-Italian studying for an engineering degree, might help him realise that ambition more effectively than some of his sincere but more "bohemian" followers. Gagaliano remarks on the irony of his gaining admittance to society gatherings only as the manager of a black jazz band hired for the occasion. It was his social class more than his skin colour that counted against him.
George, Slow Drag, Jim Robinson, and Lawrence Marrero had all worked as members of the band that Bunk Johnson took to New York in 1945 and 46. According to Gagliano, they all felt bitterly disappointed and angry that the egotism of their temporary leader had sabotaged their chances of further and continued success in New York and beyond. Life back home in New Orleans for George was one that consisted of rising early to seek casual employment at the docks, coming home to sleep in the afternoon, and then playing gigs such as the one at Manny's in the evening. All of this just about provided for himself, his wife & daughter, and his aged mother. Poorly paid work at the docks was fraught with the added danger of industrial accident. Although Gagliano makes no mention of it, I believe that Tom Bethell in his biography of George describes how catching and disposing of poisonous spiders was one of the less edifying occupations to which George was forced to resort. These are all matters insufficiently covered in jazz criticism and historiography.