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Summer Songs: Clarinetist Remakes 50 Cent


Now we continue our Summer Songs series. Gwen Thompkins, the host of Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans, is introducing us to a handful of contemporary artists who've taken some old classics out for a new spin. This week, she tells us about an unlikely pairing with New Orleans favorite Michael White.

GWEN THOMPKINS, BYLINE: Dr. Michael White, you know, is a very celebrated traditional jazz clarinetist. He heard the 50 Cent song "P.I.M.P." - that's P-I-M-P - back in 2003. That's when the song was really at its apex as a big hit in the United States.


THOMPKINS: And he really identified with the melody because he quickly associated the melody of "P.I.M.P." with the same Latin tinge that suffuses New Orleans traditional jazz. New Orleans is always seen as sort of the northernmost post of the Caribbean. But what's so interesting, Celeste, is that - you know how, nowadays, people associate traditional jazz with kind of tuxedo music. It's real fancy. You know, you dress up, you wear your pearls and you go out and you hear some traditional jazz. But as you well know, early jazz, you know what I mean, that comes from the bars and the brothels of the red-light district, you know, here in...

HEADLEE: Well, there you go.

THOMPKINS: ...In Louisiana.

HEADLEE: There's your connection.


HEADLEE: Jazz began in the brothels, and so...


HEADLEE: ...Michael White does a version of "P.I.M.P."


THOMPKINS: We're talking about the joining of two very American song traditions: rap and traditional jazz. And the traditions are about a hundred years apart. You know, traditional jazz was in full flower in the early part of the 20th century, and of course rap has been around since the 1970s, but 50 Cent is more of a 21st century phenomenon.


HEADLEE: No disrespect to 50 Cent, but that version is way more awesome than the original.

THOMPKINS: Isn't it...


THOMPKINS: ...Totally more awesome? Celeste, you hit it on the head. I mean, if 50 Cent has a brain in his head, he will call up Dr. Michael White because it dresses up the song and makes it listenable, you know, I mean, to many of us who are not such big rap fans, you know. I mean, we obviously are playing the clean version...


THOMPKINS: ...You know, but even the clean version is kind of smutty, you know.

HEADLEE: Kind of? Gwen - Gwen, it's called "P.I.M.P." It's all smutty.

THOMPKINS: Yeah, you're right. You're right, but the truth of the matter is, you know, the early traditional jazz songs...

HEADLEE: Also smutty.

THOMPKINS: ...Were just as, you know, racy, sexy, naughty - you know what I mean - as any rap song is today. I mean, it's amazing what the passage of time and what great musicianship can do to connect these great, influential American musical traditions.

HEADLEE: Thanks so much, Gwen, for joining us.

THOMPKINS: It's been my pleasure.


HEADLEE: That's Michael White's take on 50 Cent's song "P.I.M.P." And to hear more of jazz clarinetist Michael White's music and his conversation with Gwen Thompkins, the host of Music Inside Out, go to WWNO.org. And that's our program for today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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