Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Life Story Of Dr Mike White

By Maryellen Lamb

Hurricane Katrina left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. Among the people in New Orleans affected by the storm was Dr Mike White, a famous jazz musician. He had a home in Gentilly where he had a jazz archive that held a wide collection of jazz memorabilia he had collected over his life. Both the home and the archive were not spared in the storm together with his precious collection of jazz memoirs.

The destruction of his home and collections he had gathered passionately was devastating to him. He took a writing retreat after which he released a new CD entitled Blue Crescent. This composition helped him win the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2008. At 53, Dr White has undergone a creative renaissance.

There are various songs in the album. One of them is entitled Katrina and it captures the troubles he and other New Orleans residents went through in the storm. His decision to narrate the experience musically is an encouragement to many people wallowing in difficult situations in life. Many people go through difficult situations and their success over them is a motivation to others.

Katrina robbed jazz enthusiasts a reservoir of rich history. To such people the song causes them more pain than enjoyment. The museum contained over 4,000 books on jazz, numerous recordings, vintage musical instruments among many other collections that any jazz lover would die to have. Michael White speaks of the items one after the other, like he is taking stock of them in his memory where they still exist.

A visit to his home after the storm clearly revealed to him the seriousness of the damage. He was not able to locate the items in their places. Some people share in his pain and have made donations to help him rebuild the museum once again. Despite the kind gesture, he says it will not be easy to have the original museum back as some of the items were rare.

After trying to put his home back together for two years, he took a retreat in a studio where he had been in 2003. This studio is used by artists when they want to make new compositions. At the time of going for the month long retreat, he had no ideas of what he would compose. The calm environment coupled with the mental tranquility inspired him to write a new album.

The destruction caused by Katrina was so serious to him that he could not see himself recovering and composing once more. However, the time spent in the studio de-linked him from his problems. His mind was free to concentrate on composing music. Prior to the retreat he had difficulty playing any of his instruments creatively.

During the retreat, Dr Mike White meditated and unleashed a steady flow of composition. He was able to shut all the disruptions in his ordinary life and retreat into his inner self. His stay in the studio yielded more songs than he could fit in a single album. He had the time to practice on various instruments and listen to different kinds of music from all over the world.

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