George Lewis’ metal clarinet
by Eberhard Kraut

George Lewis bought his one & only metal clarinet at Werlein’s Music Shop on Canal Street, New Orleans in 1936. It was, of course, a clarinet in the Albert system, made by the well-known American Harry PEDLER woodwind company of Elkhart, Indiana in 1932. The robust one-piece metal body of the instrument had clearly appealed to George Lewis so much that he was sure he had acquired an instrument that would last him for the rest of his life. This metal clarinet gained particular renown, for it was on this instrument that Lewis played his original composition of the ‘Burgundy Street Blues’ at his home at 827 Philip Street, New Orleans, on July 27, 1944. In the following weeks George used his PEDLER again for the ‘American Music’ recording sessions with the trumpeters Bunk Johnson and Louis “Kid Shots” Madison at San Jacinto Hall; these recordings became the most significant sound archives of authentic New Orleans jazz. Even in the previous year, mid-May 1943, George Lewis played his PEDLER metal clarinet in the so-called “Climax” recording session with trumpeter Avery “Kid” Howard. The initiator of all the above mentioned recording sessions, an American of German origin, William “Bill” Russell (Wagner), recalled that “Lewis, who was using an old metal Albert system clarinet, was playing wonderfully.” Bill Russell’s brother, Bill Frederick Wagner, said in a letter to me that George Lewis sounded best on this clarinet and it was a mistake that he stopped playing his PEDLER metal clarinet (And it was a mistake too, that George used on his very first recordings with Bunk Johnson in 1942 a wooden clarinet instead of his metal clarinet). I can only explain the reason why Lewis turned back to wooden clarinets in 1945 by the fact that George’s wooden clarinets could be dismantled and were lighter in weight so that they could be transported more easily and were not so heavy on the right thumb when being played. Lewis kept his metal clarinet, which then was in disrepair, mainly as a souvenir. He later gave it to the New Orleans Jazz Museum, where it can be viewed in the former US Mint Building at 400 Esplanade Avenue. It is displayed without its mouthpiece.

The Bunk Johnson Band 1944 at San Jacinto Hall, New Orleans.
(For a detailed photo of George Lewis with his metal clarinet, which is a special copy given to me by Bill Russell on request, see my article "The Clarinet That Made History").

A few notes on the PEDLER company
The original Pedler company was founded in Elkhart, Indiana by Harry Walter Pedler, Sr (1872-1950), an apprenticed clarinet maker from England who had established as a master craftsman his own woodwind workshop in London in 1880 before he left for the USA in July 1905 to help to build a woodwind division for CONN with William Gronert (1851 - 1919)
Pedler worked for CONN for several years. Urged on by Gronert Harry W. Pedler sr. established with him ‘The American Manufacturing Co.’ in 1916. After Gronert’s death in 1919 Pedler renamed the company ‘The Harry Pedler Co.’ of which he was president until 1930. In 1930 he sold the business to the ‘Martin Band Instrument Co.’, a woodwind company founded in Elkhart, Indiana by the sons of the German instrument maker John Henry Martin (1835 – 1910). Martin changed the name ‘Harry Pedler Co.’ to ‘The Pedler Co.’ in 1936 and continued to make Pedler woodwinds in Pedler’s modern factory in Elkhart, Indiana till the late 1950s.
The Pedler company was specialized in clarinets and developed the first American-made silver bass clarinet. PEDLER clarinets were made from wood, ebonite and metal. Other woodwinds of the Pedler Co. were wooden oboes and Boehm flutes & piccolos made of wood, ebonite and silver. In my opinion the old PEDLER metal clarinets with their detachable bells and screw adjustable tuning barrels are the best designed of all metal clarinets I have ever seen. Unfortunately, a PEDLER metal Albert clarinet like the one George Lewis played is as difficult to find as a needle in a haystack.



The photo shows my “George Lewis” metal clarinet with two other PEDLER metal Albert clarinets from my collection. Whereas this particular & very rare PEDLER (shown without its mouthpiece in the middle of the photo) has a detachable bell and a screw adjustable barrel joint fixed on the one-piece main body, the metal Albert on the left has a fixed bell but a detachable plain barrel joint that can be replaced by a screw adjustable one which is in the case together with the mouthpiece. The metal Albert on the right is of the same construction as the one on the left but it breaks in the middle; with its two-piece main body (a rare feature of a PEDLER metal Albert clarinet) it can be transported like a wooden clarinet in a shorter case. All three PEDLER metal Albert clarinets are very stable because of their thick-walled German silver bodies with key rods not soldered directly to the body, but first mounted on little plates (ribs). These reinforced ribs and the thicker metal body make the clarinets more robust but heavier in weight.

Read also:

Committed to New Orleans Jazz and metal clarinets – Eberhard Kraut has set his heart on the New Orleans clarinets

and

The Clarinet That Made History

George Lewis' Penzel-Müller clarinet

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