Music is one of life's great healers. Just ask jazz clarinetist, composer and music historian Dr. Michael White, whose new CD, Blue Crescent, pays tribute to his native New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We hear more from VOA's Doug Levine who spoke with Dr. White about picking up the pieces and moving on.
Dr. Michael White was better prepared than most when Hurricane Katrina battered the Louisiana coastline on August 29, 2005. Still, having evacuated the city he's called home for 53 years, Dr. White returned to find his house and all it contained destroyed by the ravaging flood. His losses were staggering: Thousands of books, CDs, tapes and albums; taped interviews with New Orleans music veterans; more than 50 vintage clarinets dating back to the 1890s; and rare, original sheet music.
Rather than dwell on what was gone, Dr. White focused on the positive effects of jazz.
"You know, I realized some time ago that when jazz was created, it reflected the emotions and the life experiences of the people that made the music," White explained. "So, for me, living today, I mean I've lived through the 1960s, and I've lived through many different experiences, certainly, recently the Katrina experience. And the feeling and emotion from those times and what impact it had, not only on me personally, but the entire New Orleans community, those emotions can be put into music.
"Katrina has been like a death, and life will never be the same," the musician adds. "So, what that offers though is a rebirth. I feel like I'm born again, learning everything over again. All of the familiar things that we used to have, that we used to do, places, people; everything has changed. The dynamics have changed. We've all gone through a type of suffering that's very difficult to describe. With personal loses of things like homes, but for many people, [the loss of] jobs, income, family and community ties. People are dealing with another level of existence."
Dr. White began writing music again, and soon had enough material to record his first album since the hurricane, Blue Crescent. He closes it on a high note, with a tune not usually associated with New Orleans jazz.
"I realized that 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' is a traditional hymn, but it works very well in the New Orleans brass band style," he explained. "And I wanted to end the CD with a song that kind of marches off into the future in an up-tempo, optimistic way."
Dr. Michael White was recently named a recipient of the 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship. He currently serves as a member of SaveNetRadio, a coalition working to preserve jazz music on Internet radio.