Lost Jazz Treasures Live on in Clarinetist's Music

In June, Michael White took the stage in New Orleans with his clarinet.

In June, Michael White took the stage in New Orleans with his clarinet. The same month, he was honored by the Arts Council of New Orleans. John Burnett, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption John Burnett, NPR

Clarinetist and music historian Michael White lost a treasury of New Orleans jazz artifacts in the Katrina flood. The 30 years of collected knowledge now resides in his memory and his music — which reflects the passion of his loss and recovery.

White is regarded as one of the best traditional jazz players in New Orleans. He is also a noted historian of the music.

He once possessed one of the greatest private collections of New Orleans jazz artifacts, from dozens of instruments to manuscripts by Jelly Roll Morton and others. But the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina changed everything. It destroyed his life's work.

In a return to the oral tradition from which the music sprang, the entirety of White's music is now what's in him.

"The spirit of what I learned from the older musicians and what they gave me it's all inside," White says. "And that's the most valuable thing I have. The rest of the material, it's just gone."

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