Tommy Sancton’s notes to City of a Million Dreams include a photo taken during a performance at Preservation Hall in 1965. Sancton sits alongside his mentor and idol, clarinetist George Lewis. Clive Wilson holds up his trumpet alongside De De Pierce, while Lars Edegran faces his piano in the rear. A host of famous old traditional jazz musicians surround the three youngsters. When Sancton and Co. first picked up their instruments back in the ’60s, the future of this music was very much in doubt. An older generation of jazzmen was disappearing and scant few kids were stepping in to replace them.
How things have changed! City of a Million Dreams is a rousing affirmation of the music’s vitality in modern-day New Orleans. Sancton, Edegran, and Wilson are joined by three members of the musical generation that came to prominence in the ’80s and ’90s: drummer Jason Marsalis, trombonist Ronell Johnson, and bassist Kerry Lewis. These are six exceptional musicians from two generations fluent in the language of New Orleans jazz and speaking it with energy, clarity and wit. The repertoire is quite traditional but mines a few lesser-known songs. The title track is a playful tune by New Orleans clarinetist Raymond Burke (1904-86), and the tango “Un Hombre Fiel,” co-written by Sancton’s son Julian, is a nice surprise.