Raymond Burke (clarinetist)

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Raymond Burke (6 June 1904 - 21 March 1986) was a U.S. jazz clarinetist.


Raymond Burke was born Raymond Barrois on June 6, 1904, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Very little is known about his early life and career, because of his aversion to interviews, and his belief that the personal life of a musician had little to do with his music.

Throughout his life, Burke rarely left the city except for rare out of town gigs or his tours with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the later years of his life. His friend and Jazz enthusiast, Al Rose, claims that the entire time that Burke spent outside of New Orleans would probably amount to less than ten weeks.[1] Raymond Burke was not only active in the New Orleans Music scene, but was also related to many of the early players. Burke is the nephew of Jules Cassard, an early Jazz Trombonist, who played with the Reliance Brass Band. He is also the cousin of early 20th century Dixieland musician Harold Peterson.[2]

Unlike many of the New Orleans Revivalist Players, Raymond Burke was one of the few to have been continuously involved in bands, or ensemble playing throughout his life.

Raymond claimed that his first instrument was a simple flute that he had carved out of a fishing pole. He then went on to play the tin whistle, kazoo, and ultimately the Clarinet.[3] Burkes first musical employment came in 1913, where he panhandled on the kazoo with future New Orleans Rhythm King drummer Leo Adde, who played percussion on a cigar box.[4]

Burke was an active participant in the early twentieth century music scene in New Orleans, which is often believed to be the birthplace of Jazz. In the cabarets and dance halls of Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, Raymond began his long career as a musician.

In the 1930s Burke played with several New Orleans based groups, including The Henry Belas Orchestra (Trumpet: Henry Belas, Clarinet: Raymond Burke, Trombone: Al Moore, Drummer: Joe Stephens, and Pianist: "PeeWee."), The Melon Pickers (Guitar: Henry Walde, Clarinet: Raymond Burke) Bassist: John Bell, Drummer: Al Doria, Trumpet: Bill Nauin, and Pianist: Julius Chevez.)[5] Burke also spent a short period of time in Kansas City for a musical job, but soon returned.[6] Throughout the 1940s and 50s Burke played and recorded with Alvin Alcorn, Sharkey Bonano, and frequently in a trio with Pianist Jeff Riddick, and bassist Sherwood Mangiapane. The 1960s marked a resurgence in national and local interest in New Orleans Style Jazz, as well as for the remaining early century Jazz musicians. The foundation of the New Orleans Jazz Club and Preservation Hall brought the New Orleans Jazz community together and exposed more people to his music. Throughout the 1960s and 70s Burke remained highly productive, mostly playing and recording with fellow Preservation Hall Musicians. Burke died in 1986.


Raymond was a polite, albeit eccentric man. He had wavy hair, a thin mustache, and dressed conservatively. Burke spoke with a thick New Orleans accent and used colorful regional vocabulary, which some found confusing. He did not drink, smoke, or gamble. Above all, Raymond is portrayed as unpretentious, a quality which many associate with his playing.[7]

Rabais Shop[edit]

According to his colleagues and New Orleans Jazz Enthusiasts, Raymond's only non-musical form of employment was the management of a "Rabais" shop on Bourbon Street. According to friend Al Rose, a Rabais shop is "not as high flown as an Antique Store nor as disreputable as a junk Shop"[8] It is a personal collection that the owner makes semi-available to the public for sale. Raymond's shop was in a residential section of Bourbon street which had light pedestrian traffic, and so generated very little business. It lacked furniture, except for one wooden stool where Burke sat, or electricity, ensuring that the shop closed at sundown.[9] The shop was filled with old Jazz records, historical memorabilia, Musical Instruments and equipment, books, magazines, and a collection of sheet music. Being dark and cluttered on the inside, the store was not made for browsing. Rather, if a patron had a specific request, Raymond would recall whether he had the object in stock, and if so, would have to find it amongst the collection.[10] Al Rose claims that the store probably averaged about two dollars of income per day. However, he also argues that the store had another, more musically important purpose. Throughout the work day (from 1pm to sundown) musicians would seek out Raymond at the Rabais to play with him. These sessions were informal and unattended, consisting of Raymond's Clarinet and whatever instrument the player(s) had brought. By the end of any given day, Rose estimates that up to a dozen musicians would have stopped by to play with Burke. Among these men were amateurs as well as distinguished musical talent.[11]


While Burke was an active musician for most of his life, he did not achieve mainstream popularity, or commercial success. He was, and remains a relatively obscure figure in the Jazz world . This can be attributed to both his musical style and his personal aversion to fame or reputation. Raymond Burke was known for playing modestly and, when playing in large ensembles, his Clarinet could easily be overpowered. Thus, while he was widely recorded throughout his career, his records did not make an impression. Burke also refused to let contemporary music influence his sound for commercial reasons, and played in what many considered an outdated style. Another possible factor in Burke's obscurity is his association with "Second Line" Jazz.[12] Although the term has several different meanings, the term has been used to differentiate white musicians who played New Orleans Style Jazz, from Black or Creole musicians. Since New Orleans Jazz is typically associated with the African American population in that city, "Second Line" can be used negatively to refer to white musicians who have simply imitated and simplified this style.[13] Thus, Charles Suhor argues that Burke, as well as other talented white New Orleans Jazz musicians, was neglected throughout much of his early career and not taken seriously. However, while the general public remains unaware of him, Burke is a popular and greatly admired player among New Orleans Jazz Musicians and a small, but devoted, community of record collectors and enthusiasts. According to John Steiner, 1939 was an important year for the discovery of Burke's music, as well as for other relatively low key Jazz musicians. This year marked the general availability of cheap, portable recorders. Jazz enthusiasts would subsequently bring these devices to local jam sessions and record their favorite musicians.[14] Among these collectors, recordings were passed around, and Burke's audience increased gradually over the next two decades. As a result, Burke became especially popular with Jazz music insiders rather than the general music listening public. According to John Steiner, Jazz enthusiasts feared that Burke could become another forgotten Jazz great, similar to the legendary Buddy Bolden, and so attempted to spread his music.[15]

Burke's Musical Characteristics[edit]

Raymond Burke played in the Dixieland style. According to Charles Suhor, Dixieland is characterized, and differentiated from earlier Jazz forms, by "more conventional tones of wind instruments, rejection of rapid vibratos, greater instrumental facility, and considerable attention to solos, which are routinely "passed around" in between opening and closing ensemble Choruses." [16] Burke's repertoire consisted primarily of old standards. New York Times reviewer, John S. Wilson claimed that Burke "used mellow, woodsy lower notes to build delightfully catchy little phrases and runs."He also noted that Burke would wriggle around in his seat while playing, and that, during solos, he would play from a strange, semi-crouch position. He also commended Burke's "unhurried" approach. While Dixieland is often assumed to be a campy imitation of past music, Wilson notes that Burke does not depend on musical stereotypes or clichés.[17] Al Rose also claims that, while Burke's music was quintessentially traditional New Orleans, his sound was not nostalgic. Instead of strictly imitating the musical style of 1920's jazz, Rose felt that Burke remained an innovative musician, who just happened to work through that particular style of music.[18] One 1965 concert that Raymond played exemplified many of his defining musical characteristics. This concert was particularly noteworthy because it brought together Burke, and Chicago style pianist Art Hodes. Although the reviewer claims that the group was prone to "ragged endings" and occasional uncertainty and hesitation, he applauds Burke's ability to play with Art Hodes and feed off his musical spontaneity. The reviewer notes Raymond's economic solo lines, and argues that he was a master of spacing out musical ideas. The review asserts that Burke had an excellent handling of the lower register of the Clarinet, also known as the "Chalumeau" register. Burke would often begin a solo line with an unexpected high note, then proceed down in pitch until he reached this register.[19] Even within the Dixieland style, Burke's playing was viewed as eccentric, and highly individual. Al Rose claimed that,

"He just doesn't play a clarinet part! The tourist expects to hear the really conventional harmony, and Raymond just won't stick to it. He's got all that ingenious counterpoint on his mind-- and you know, if it's on his mind, he blows it!"[20]

He refused to play music which he deems too fast or too slow. He believed that to play music at such high tempos was merely a way for players to show-off. Doing so shifted the audiences attention away from the music. On the other hand, he also insists that Jazz shouldn't be played too slow, claiming that "the blues ain't funeral music.[21]

Burke does very little for effect. Unlike many musicians who became associated with the New Orleans style, Burke did not flutter or play in an uncontrolled way. Burke would not sacrifice tone for a crowd pleasing effect. Burke was known to sometimes stop playing during a performance and walk offstage if he felt as if one of his bandmates was pandering to the audience.[22]

Burke and Preservation Hall[edit]

Preservation Hall was a concert space established in the 1960s, which quickly became the center of a revival in New Orleans Jazz. In 1961, Icon Record label executive Grayson Mills traveled to New Orleans in order to record veteran Jazz musicians.[23] Because many of these players were elderly or unpracticed, Mills conceived of Preservation Hall as a sort of practice space, where the players could redevelop their talent in front of an audience. Unlike many contemporary New Orleans Jazz clubs, Preservation Hall was designed solely for listening to the musicians. The hall served no food or drinks, had only a few rows of benches for seating, and no dance floor. Originally, donation was the only source of revenue for the club as even admittance was free. Mills hoped that, if the musicians were not worried about appealing to tourists or needy club owners, they would be able to regain their creativity. This fit Burke's music-first approach, and he became a regular Preservation Hall musician for the remainder of his life.[24] In the mid 1960's, Allan Jaffe assumed management of preservation hall and expanded its operations. In order to ensure the financial survival of the Hall during low tourist seasons, Jaffe began looking at alternative ways for Preservation Hall to maintain an income. Jaffe began managing numerous "Preservation Hall Bands" negotiating recording contracts and sending groups on international tours, even sending Burke to the Soviet Union in 1979.[25][26]


According to Al Rose, while Burke is widely admired by fellow Jazz musicians and listeners, he has had absolutely no appreciable influence on the playing of others, or the direction of Jazz music in general. Because Dixieland is widely considered an outdated music style, there are few players who approach it with the same creativity as Burke. Furthermore, Raymond's playing was considered eccentric even within the Dixieland style. For instance, in a Second Line magazine article, Rose recalls suggesting to musician George Girard that he adopt Raymond Burke into his band. His response was, "Man that would be plain heaven, but if I had him i'd still need a clarinet player." [27]


  1. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958
  2. ^ Rose, Al. Souchon, E. New Orleans Jazz. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge,
  3. ^ Second Line, Volume 9, 1958
  4. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  5. ^ Rose, Al. Souchon, E. New Orleans Jazz. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge
  6. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  7. ^ Second Line, Volume 9, The Emergence of Raymond Burke
  8. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  9. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  10. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  11. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  12. ^ New York Times
  13. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  14. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"A Tribute to Raymond Burke"
  15. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"A Tribute to Raymond Burke"
  16. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  17. ^ New York Times, John Steiner, 1972
  18. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  19. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  20. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  21. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958, "The Emergence of Raymond Burke."
  22. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"The Rabais of Raymond Burke"
  23. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  24. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  25. ^ Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970
  26. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"A Tribute to Raymond Burke"
  27. ^ Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958,"The Rabais of Raymond Burke"


Suhor, Charles. Jazz in New Orleans: The postwar Years through 1970. Scarecrow Press, Inc. London. 2001

Rose, Al. Souchon, Edmond. New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. 1967.

The Emergence of Raymond Burke, Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958

The Rabais of Raymond Burke Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958

A Tribute to Raymond Burke Second Line Magazine, Volume 9, 1958

Wilson, John S. "Jazz Group Carries on an Old Tradition" New York Times, August 11, 1963.

Wilson, John S. "New Orleans Recalled." New York Times. July 7, 1972.

Wilson, John S. Jazz Fiesta Gets the Beat Slowly. New York Times. June 9, 1969.