Traditional jazz is by nature passed on through the age by torchbearers. Without the torchbearers, the music would cease to be. It would stagnate into a formula of recreation. ODJB, King Oliver, Kid Ory, the Creole Band, and Sidney Bechet are of the first wave of musicians to bring New Orleans jazz to the world.
Louis Armstrong followed in their footsteps and became the most famous of all. George Lewis, a stevedore-turned-traditional jazz icon was the same age as Armstrong but didn’t hit it big until the ’40s in the New Orleans “revival” period. Toward the end of Lewis’ career, he crossed paths with a young English clarinetist performing in the same character and spirit as the early traditional-jazz masters. Since 1960, when Sammy Rimington first toured with Lewis, he has carried the torch—bringing his old-time traditional jazz clarinet to the world.
Rimington is, after 50 years, still on top of his game. From his start in 1957, his respect and love for New Orleans traditional jazz has remained strong, as is evident in his dedication to the genre. Rimington recently recalled his humble beginnings: “We were all beatniks, wearing long hair, listening to New Orleans jazz records and playing parties.” He soon fell in love with Lewis’ clarinet playing and learned to play from Lewis’ records. Just three years later, Sammy went pro when he joined a tour with Ken Coyler that featured Lewis. Rimington states that he never took a clarinet lesson, except with George Lewis.
Rimington has recently release a book of pictures and testimonies commemorating his 50 years in the music business. It starts in 1957 when, on guitar, he formed a skiffle band and continues through a prosperous career of frequent touring and recording with some of the most famous artists in the New Orleans traditional jazz pantheon, including “Kid” Thomas Valentine, Thomas Jefferson, Doc Cheetham, Danny Barker, Wendell Brunious, Juanita Brooks, Topsy Chapman, Lars Edegran, Don Vappie and too many more to mention here.
He has played Jazz Fest many times since the first Jazz Fest at the Municipal Auditorium in May of 1968 with Barry Martyn’s Band playing a set between Count Basie and Dave Brubeck with Gerry Mulligan. After all these years, Rimington stays optimistic about his return to the Economy Hall tent, saying: “Surprises, always surprises, meeting new people, seeing the changes in New Orleans—it’s never predictable.”
Joining Rimington will be veteran bassist Peter “Chuck” Badie, Preservation Hall Band member Ronell Johnson on trombone, Gerald “The Giant” French on drums, Lars Edegran on piano and yours truly on banjo and guitar.