Sancton’s Song For Students

Each summer, Tulane University in New Orleans sends the coming autumn’s entering students a book to read. Tulane’s goal in its reading project is “to provide new students with a shared intellectual experience through the reading and discussion of a common book and a campus-wide intellectual dialogue that begins during orientation and continues throughout the fall semester.”
This year, Tulane’s book is Song For My Fathers, Tom Sancton’s moving account of growing up white and middle class in New Orleans and learning about life from his own father and from the old black men who played at Preservation Hall. Sancton’s insights into what makes the city tick, the characters of the last generation of original New Orleans jazz musicians and the varieties of human relationships, are bound to enrich the development of Tulane’s new students. It will certainly help them understand some of the reasons why so many Orleanians are emotionally committed to the revival of a city where the environment, meteorology and common sense say it should never have been built.
Traditional New Orleans jazz is not at the top of the listening lists of many people under the age of seventy. And yet, such hip modern musicians as Steven Bernstein, Randy Sandke and Don Byron take a genuine interest in jazz from the 1920s and thirties not because of its quaintness but because of its content and passion. Anyone who pays serious attention to the musical heroes of Sancton’s book–George Lewis, George Guesnon, Joe Watkins, Papa Celestin, Punch Miller, Narvin Kimball and the rest–will get the bonus of deeper knowledge and appreciation of all the jazz that followed
If you wish to hear how well Sancton learned from George Lewis to play the clarinet, try this album. He is a world-class journalist who ran TIME’s Paris bureau for two decades, and he lives in Paris now, but Song For My Fathers and his playing leave no doubt about where his heart is.

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