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Michael White

Music professor and jazz musician Michael White was born on November 29, 1954 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Descended from early jazz notables such as bassist Papa John Joseph and clarinetist Willie “Kaiser” Joseph, White did not know of his background, but saw his aunt, who played classical clarinet, as his influence. White too played clarinet in the noted St. Augustine’s High School Marching Band and took private lessons from the band’s esteemed director, Lionel Hampton, for three years.

White balanced school with his interest in the clarinet. He went on to obtain his B.A. degree from Xavier University in 1976 and his M.A. degree in Spanish from Tulane University in 1979. That same year, White joined the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, and two years later, White founded The Original Liberty Jazz Band with the aim of preserving the musical heritage of New Orleans. In 1984, White earned his Ph.D. degree in Spanish from Tulane University and began teaching Spanish and African American music at Xavier University. Around this time, White started collaborating with jazz great Wynton Marsalis; in 1989, White was featured on Wynton Marsalis’ seminal recording, Majesty of the Blues, and that same year, the two worked together on “A Tribute to Jelly Roll Morton,” performed at New York’s Lincoln Center, in which White served as musical director.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. White was living in a one-story home in the Gentilly district of New Orleans, near the London Avenue Canal, and his home was destroyed by the flooding. White was a collector of jazz artifacts and history, but lost all thirty years of jazz memorabilia in the flooding, including interviews of early jazzmen, a clarinet mouthpiece that once belonged to Sidney Bechet, approximately 9000 records and CDs, and a collection of over five dozen vintage clarinets. Still, White embraced jazz’s spirit of improvisation and released his most recent album, Blue Cresent, in 2008, which consists of mainly original compositions and was met with critical acclaim.

The recipient of a 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, White has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1987, the French Government bestowed upon White the rank of Chevalier of Arts and Letters. As a resident artist at the Lincoln Center, White has served as musical director for several of their concerts, including 1992’s Blue Clarinet Stomp and 1994’s Cornet Kings Before Armstrong. White serves as Commissioner of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and in 2002 he was appointed as the first incumbent of the Rosa and Charles Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Xavier University. Most recently, in 2010, White was named Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

Michael White was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 7, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.041

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/7/2010

Last Name

White

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Schools

St. Augustine High School

Xavier University of Louisiana

Tulane University

Holy Ghost School

St. Joan of Arc Catholic School

St. David School

First Name

Michael

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

WHI16

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Southern France, Coastal Japan, Norwegian Fjords

Favorite Quote

A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Birth Date

11/29/1954

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New Orleans

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Hamburgers

Short Description

Jazz musician and music professor Michael White (1954 - ) was professor of Spanish and African American music at Xavier University of Louisiana, and bandleader of the Original Liberty Jazz Band in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Employment

Xavier University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michael White's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michael White lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michael White describes his mother's upbringing in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michael White talks about his mother's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michael White recalls his relationship with his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michael White talks about Papa John Joseph

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Michael White talks about the early recordings of New Orleans jazz music

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michael White talks about his maternal family's musical background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Michael White describes his maternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michael White recalls his maternal grandmother's candy making business, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michael White recalls his maternal grandmother's candy making business, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michael White describes his maternal aunt's musicianship

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michael White recalls his early musical experiences in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michael White talks about his father's background

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michael White remembers his father's organizational activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michael White recalls his parents' involvement in the Knights of Peter Claver

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Michael White talks about how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Michael White describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Michael White describes his community in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michael White describes his community in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michael White describes the sights and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michael White remembers Morgus the Magnificent

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michael White desvribes his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michael White describes his early personality

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michael White remembers his early awareness of race, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michael White remembers his early awareness of race, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Michael White talks about the Creole identity, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Michael White describes the placage system

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Michael White talks about the Creole identity, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Michael White describes his experiences of discrimination in the majority-white Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michael White describes his experiences of discrimination in the majority-white Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michael White talks about his sister

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michael White remembers his paternal grandfather

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michael White describes his Catholic schooling in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michael White describes his Catholic schooling in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michael White remembers Hurricane Betsy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Michael White remembers learning to play the clarinet

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Michael White describes St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Michael White describes his early musical instruction

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michael White recalls playing with the St. Augustine High School Marching 100, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michael White recalls playing with the St. Augustine High School Marching 100, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Michael White remembers his early interest in jazz

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Michael White remembers his high school instruction in Spanish

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Michael White recalls his decision to study Spanish

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Michael White recalls his start at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Michael White remembers Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Michael White recalls his professors at Xavier University of Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Michael White talks about his exposure to New Orleans jazz

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Michael White remembers joining Ernest "Doc" Paulin's brass band

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Michael White remembers meeting Danny Barker

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Michael White talks about the social aid and pleasure clubs of New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Michael White describes the jazz funeral tradition

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Michael White demonstrates the clarinet's role in a jazz funeral

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Michael White describes the conclusion of a jazz funeral

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Michael White remembers his early gigs with Ernest "Doc" Paulin's band

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Michael White recalls the musicians in Ernest "Doc" Paulin's band

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Michael White reflects upon the evolution of the New Orleans jazz community

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Michael White talks about the significance of social aid and pleasure club parades

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Michael White describes the structure of a social aid and pleasure club parade, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Michael White describes the structure of a social aid and pleasure club parade, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Michael White talks about the origin of jazz in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Michael White talks about the history of jazz, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Michael White characterizes the jazz style of New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Michael White talks about the history of jazz, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Michael White differentiates New Orleans jazz from Dixieland music

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Michael White recalls his decision to leave Ernest "Doc" Paulin's band

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Michael White remembers playing with smaller jazz bands

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Michael White talks about jazz musicians of New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Michael White remembers his rendition of 'Burgundy Street Blues'

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Michael White remembers his introduction to New Orleans' jazz scene

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Michael White describes his membership in the American Federation of Musicians Local 174-496

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Michael White describes the generations of New Orleans jazz musicians, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Michael White describes the generations of New Orleans jazz musicians, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Michael White talks about jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' early popularity

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Michael White recalls Wynton Marsalis' resistance to playing New Orleans jazz

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Michael White talks about the influence of New Orleans jazz on Duke Ellington

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Michael White remembers recording 'The Majesty of the Blues'

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Michael White talks about playing at jazz festivals with Wynton Marsalis

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Michael White recalls his work as a musical director

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Michael White talks about his careers in academia and music

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Michael White remembers his first record, 'Shake It and Break It'

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Michael White talks about forming the Original Liberty Jazz Band

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$6

DAStory

2$6

DATitle
Michael White remembers joining Ernest "Doc" Paulin's brass band
Michael White demonstrates the clarinet's role in a jazz funeral
Transcript
One day at Xavier [Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana] I, I was hanging around the jazz band at Xavier, but the jazz band at Xavier was like a, like a big band. And the director, like most band directors, didn't really know much about New Orleans jazz and really didn't like, didn't like it, and you know, kind of basically ignored me, for the most part. But I would hang around the jazz band, trying to learn some things about music. And one day there was this guy who played tuba in, in the jazz--in the--at Xavier in the music department. And I'm trying to remember exactly what he played in the jazz band. I don't think he played tuba in the jazz band. I don't remember exactly what he played. But anyway, his name is Big Al Carson [Alton "Big Al" Carson]. He turned out to be a great rhythm and blues singer, which he is today. But I remember talking to him. There used to be this old oak tree outside of the music building, and I remember we used to gather outside of there before band rehearsal and sometimes after. And we'd sit down on the bench and talk about what was going on in life. And I remember him saying, "Oh, I've been--." "How's it going, Al?" "Oh, I've been playing in these parades out here with this brass band." I said, "Brass band?" I said, "You play in one of those bands?" He said, "Yeah, I play with this guy named Doc Paulin," I said--he said, "but it's, it's, it's a non-union band," he said, "that's the only non-union band; everybody else had to be in the musicians union." So, I never thought, you know, I could play enough to even think about anything like a musicians union. And, but I said maybe I'll give this non-union thing a try. I said, "Well, look, if y'all ever need a clarinet, let me know, tell him about--." He said, "Yeah, I'll tell him about you." So, a few weeks later, I went to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This was my junior year at Xavier, 1975. And there was this band that Big Al Carson was in, Doc Paulin's brass band, Doc Paulin. So I met Doc Paulin. Doc Paulin was a Creole trumpet player. He had a very thick French accent. He was very, very dark skinned. He had a strange, I thought at the time strange something about him. I didn't find out until just a couple of years ago after his death that he was actually of Haitian descent. I thought he was--I knew he was from Wallace, in the country in Louisiana, and I thought that's what, the way people sounded in Wallace, 'cause he sounded the way Creoles sound from other parts of Louisiana. But at any rate, Ernest "Doc" Paulin was his name. He was a trumpet player that was born in the early first decade of, of 19--1900. He led a brass band for many years. He played with a lot of legendary jazz musicians. He made a few, a couple of recordings. And I met him at Jazz Fest. He looked at me, and you know, I'm say, I say, "Oh, hey, Doc. You know, I'm the guy that Big A told you about, the clarinet." And Big Al told him about me. And he looked at me and he frowned, and he said, "All y'all young people ain't no good." And it's like, I was kind of insulted. So he said, "And if I call you for a job, you gonna show up on time?" I said, "Yeah." "You gonna wear the right uniform? You know we wear black pants, your shoes gotta be shined and clean, you wear white shirt, clean black tie--solid black tie, not no stripes and not them polka dots." He had a thick French accent. "You know what I mean?" "Yeah." "We wear a white band cap." "Okay." So I gave him my phone number and figured I'd never hear from him. Couple of weeks later I got a call. "White [HistoryMaker Michael White], this is Doc Paulin. I got a job for you. Be at my house at such and such a time, and don't forget we wear black pants, white shirt, short sleeve white shirt, solid black tie, band cap. You got a band cap?" "No, but I'll get one." And that was the beginning of, of my career playing with Doc Paulin.$We were talking about the jazz parades, and you were going to show us what you meant, so.$$Yeah, in a jazz funeral, we mentioned the slow music, which represents and highlights the sadness of the event: the passing of a person, the fact that they are no longer going to be with us. The good times that we shared with them were going, finished. So that's very sad, and the slow sad music reflects that. You know, we would play dirges. And as I mentioned, the, the, the, the s- the somber mood of the band was highlighted by the fact that all of the instruments had a kind of different sound, but they all sounded like people moaning, different voices, male, female voices. The clarinet would, would moan with a lot of vibrato, sort of like a weeping widow, up high. And you know, if, if the clarinet would play like, for example, a melody of the song, clarinet normally doesn't play medo- melody, but if, if a clarinet played the melody of a song like 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee,' it would sound sort of like this: (playing clarinet). But in reality, the clarinet would actually play around the melody, and so, around that sort of preaching like voice. And would play things like this: (playing clarinet). So, that's kind of what the clarinet would do in a jazz funeral. And you could hear that blocks away, just kind of wailing and screeching and crying but very effective in the ceremony. And that part of the jazz funeral, was, was usually very solemn.