Dr. Michael White, a well-known Jazz clarinetist from New Orleans, is a man who wears many hats. As a Xavier professor, bandleader, composer, jazz historian, and musicologist, he is regarded as one of the leading authorities and strongest purveyors of Traditional New Orleans jazz music.
Dr. White was born in New Orleans and grew up in the Ninth Ward around the corner from Fats Domino. He attended St. Davis Elementary School and credits his success to exposure to music consciousness from an early age both at school and around his neighborhood. As a young child, he was inspired by older Jazz legends and began to play similar music.
Despite his bloodline to some of the earliest Jazz musicians, White’s career began playing in various brass bands. His Aunt, who played clarinet, nudged him to take up the instrument in middle school, and he marching with the famed St. Augustine Marching 100. It wasn’t until his late teens that he first heard live jazz music while at Jazz Fest, and he became inspired by the music of New Orleans.
In 2005, White’s one-story Gentilly home was flooded with seven feet of water, and he lost his entire collection of invaluable historical music memorabilia, including the original sheet music of “Dead Man Blue” by Jelly Roll Morton, a clarinet mouthpiece by Sidney Bechet, an estimated 5,000 records and LPs, and the majority of his extensive clarinet collection. White later donated the damaged clarinets, psychedelic in coloring due to water damage, to the Jazz Collection at Louisiana State Museum and “whoever else wanted them”, as Dr. White says. A few of his clarinets are now at the Smithsonian, and another, which is featured in the video, now lives at the Presbytere off Jackson Square in New Orleans.