This is an attempt to describe the ”Closer Walk” story and the recordings, especially by George Lewis.
There are several religious songs about walking, some of which also adapted to jazz style: ”Walking with the King”, ”Walking with Jesus”, ”Walking in the Light of God”, ”Walk with Me”, ”We shall Walk through the Streets of the City” and many more. Walking with God is mentioned in the Bible, like Enoch, Moses and Abraham (but there are no examples of saints marching in through the Pearly Gates…)
George Lewis recorded ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” forty times. This is not all time high; ”Burgundy Street Blues” tops the list with more than 50 recordings. The origin of ”Burgundy Street Blues” is well-known, but the background of ”Closer Walk” is shrouded in mystery.
In 1769 the British poet William Cowper published a hymn called ”Walking with God”, later more known as ”O for a Closer Walk with God” after the first line of the first stanza. Several tunes have been used for this hymn, ”Beatudio” by John B. Dykes being the most popular. It was printed in ”Olney Hymns”, a song book by Cowper and his friend John Newton, who wrote ”Amazing Grace”.. (The two songs have the same meter, and the melody ”Amazing Grace” has been used for ”O for a Closer Walk”). I have not found evidence of earlier usage of the phrase ”Closer Walk” whatsoever..
Martha J. Lankton (one of Fanny Crosby´s many pseudonyms) and William J. Kirkpatrick published a song ”Closer Walk with Thee” in ”Songs of Joy and Gladness” (1885):
I am happy, O my Savior, For I know that I am Thine / Thro’ the pure and perfect cleansing Of thy precious blood divine / But my soul would rise still higher, there are greater joys for me / I am longing, I am praying for a closer walk with thee
Another song by Fanny Crosby (she wrote over 8 000!) is ”Close to Thee”, music Silas J. Vail (Songs of Grace and Glory, 1874.):
Thou my everlasting Portion, more than friend or life to me, / All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee. / Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, / All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.
In 1915 Carrie Lee Bowyer published ”Just a Closer Walk with Jesus” in ”The Highway Hymnal”. I have not heard it, nor seen the lyrics or the music. However, this title has been improperly used for “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” on several Internet sites. Moreover, it also occurs on a YouTube clip with a trio playing “All that Thrills My Soul is Jesus”…
The above mentioned lyrics have perifer similarity with the much more famous ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, but not the melodies. So, who wrote ”our” song, and when? Nobody seems to know, is the simple answer, but of course there must be a connection to the mentioned songs.
Ace Collins argues (”Turn Your Radio on”, page 142-145) that the song originates from the time before the Civil War.
”Personal histories jotted down by African-Americans of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s mention slaves singing as they worked in the fields a song about walking by the Lord’s side. (—) Over the course of the next hundred years, ”Closer Walk” was passed down from generation to generation, from church choir to church choir (—).”
The exact phrase ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” can not be found in any written sources before 1940, when the black composer and music publisher Kenneth Morris discovered the song.
There are two versions of how Kenneth Morris found the song:
While traveling between Kansas City and Chicago in 1940, songwriter Kenneth Morris got off the train to stretch his legs. While standing on the platform, he overheard a porter singing some of the words to “Just a Closer Walk with Thee“. Not thinking much about it, Morris boarded the train and went on his way. The words and melody of the song kept repeating in his head and he knew he had to learn the rest of it. At the next stop, Morris got off the train and took the next train back to the previous stop. There he managed to find the porter and Morris persuaded him to sing the song while he copied down the words. Morris soon added to the lyrics and published it in 1940. (Horace Clarence Boyer: “How Sweet the Sound”, page 75).
A probably more reliable version comes from Kenneth Morris himself:
Take ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee”; now there’s been so much controversy about that song – that is not my original song. It was an arrangement I made on an old spiritual. It was a plantation song, and I heard it and liked it so well that I came and made an arrangement of it. I went to Kansas City, to a conference of some kind, and one of the choirs there sang it. I asked them where they heard it, and they asked their choir director, Mr. William B. Hurse, where they had gotten it from. He didn’t know, he had heard it all of his life. I had never heard it before. I am the one who made the arrangement; the first one that was put in print was mine. I took it to the National Baptist Convention in 1944 and presented it with my group, the Martin and Morris Singers, and it simply clicked. (Bernice Johnson Reagon ”We’ll Understand It Better By and By” p. 336.)
However, according to ”Encyclopedia of African American Music”,
”gospel artists Robert Anderson & R.L. Knowles heard William B. Hurse sing the unknown song, and brought it home to Morris who arranged and published it in 1940.”
The first printed sheet music has the caption title ”As sung by Mr. William B. Hurse of Kansas City, Mo. Dedicated to Robert Anderson & R.L. Knowles, on their return from California.” It is not known which verses Morris added.
Just a closer walk with Thee / Grant it, Jesus, if you please / Daily walking close to Thee / Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
I am weak, but Thou art strong / Jesus, keep me from all wrong / I’ll be satisfied as long / As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
Thru this world of toil and snares / If I falter, Lord, who cares? / Who with me my burden shares? / None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
When my feeble life is o’er / Time for me will be no more / Guide me gently, safely o’er / To Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore.
Morris does not distinguish between ”verse” and ”chorus”, but in later versions ”Just a closer walk with thee” is denoted as ”chorus”, ”I am weak…” = v. 1, ”Thru’ this world…” = v. 2 and ”When my feeble…” = v. 3.
Negro spirituals and other songs of popular origin in oral tradition often have a variety of lyrics. ”When The Saints” is one example. In Morris’ original sheet music to ”Just a Closer Walk” (© 1940) the second line reads ”Grant it Jesus, if you please”. Joe Watkins sings this phrase in his vocals with George Lewis, and most jazz bands have copied his lyrics. The African American Heritage Hymnal uses Morris’ lyrics, too.
Morris did not care of taking copyright, so white music producers printed the song under their own names. It was soon very popular in USA and is included in at least 75 hymnals from both black and white denominations and other song books, for instance ”America´s Favorite Radio Songs” (1947).
I have a printed sheet JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / R.E. WINSETT, Copyright 1948. The phrase ”if you please” has been replaced by ”is my plea”. There is also a fourth verse:
When life’s sunsets in the west / Lord, may I have done my best / May I find sweet peace and rest / In that home, happy home of the blest
In the arrangement by Stamps-Baxter Music & Printing Co in Peaceful Echoes (© 1948) the lyrics read:
Just a closer walk with Thee / Grant jt, Jesus, this my plea / Daily let it ever be / Just a closer Walk with thee
I am weak, but Thou art strong / Jesus, keep me from all wrong, / I’ll be satisfied as long / As I walk, dear Lord close to Thee.
Thru this world of toil and snares / If I falter, Lord, who cares? / Who with me my burden shares? / Let me walk, dear Lord, close toThee.
When my feeble life is o’er / Time for me will be no more, / Guide me to that peaceful shore / Let me walk, dear Lord, close to Thee
The Internet site http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/lyrics.htm#closer has yet another version:
When my feeble life is o’er / Time for me will be no more / On that Bright eternal shore / I will walk, dear Lord, close to Thee.
The phrase “is my plea” is used in most hymnals and Internet sites. Google has around 70 000 hits, compared with “if you please” (7 700) and “this my plea” (1 300).
Morris refers to ”Closer Walk” as ”an old spiritual”, ”a plantation song”. However, the absence of recordings from the twenties and thirties may indicate that the song was written in the late thirties. On http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=68313351 there is a concrete name, Rev. Elijah H. Cluke, ”a worker at the Rockwell (Seaton) foundry, Cluke, an African American suffered discrimination, he put his feelings into a new song that is still known around the world, Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” Cluke was born in 1907 and died in 1974. Theoretically he could be the composer, but there are no other proofs or sources. According to another (unconfirmed) information the melody was composed to a funeral as late as 1937.
The basic chord sequence is Bb Bb F7 F7 / F7 F7 Bb Bb / Bb Bb Eb Eb / Bb F7 Bb Bb /Exactly the same chords are used in the first parts of some Swedish religious songs like J.A. Hultman’s ”Tack min Gud för vad som varit” and Emil Gustafson’s ”Hur underlig är du i allt vad du gör” Other examples are the Swedish folk song “Alpens Ros”, the Danish “Nyboders Pris” (second half), the choruses of ”He Keeps Me Singing”, ”In the Sweet By and By” and the last theme of “Panama”, all of which are of white origin.
A stylistic feature in many spirituals is ”call and response”, which for instance occurs in some of George Lewis’ recordings. Joe Watkins sings “Just a closer walk with Thee” and Kid Howard fills in “Walking with Jesus, talking with Jesus” in the third and fourth bar.
Kenneth Morris’ original (printed in We’ll Understand It Better By and By, p.334-335) shows an arrangement for six voices with lead vocal and underlying repetition of the phrase ”Just a closer walk with Thee” in each of the bars 1-4, ”Grant it Jesus if you please” in bars 5-8, ”Daily walking close with Thee” (9-12), ”Let it be, just let it be” (13-15) and ”Let it be, dear Lord, let it be” in the final bar.
The song was first recorded in New York, 8 October 1941 by the black vocal group SELAH JUBILEE SINGERS of Brooklyn with Thermon Ruth and John Ford lead vocal, Fred Baker, lead baritone; Monroe Clark, baritone; J. B. Nelson, bass vocal; and Fred Baker on guitar (Decca De7872, reissued by Document Records in 1996 (DOCD 5500). Their version is performed at a slow tempo with a slight chord difference: Gb in bar 12, Bb/Fdim in bar 15 and F7 in the final bar..
Selah Jubilee Singers was one of the most important quartets, in this genre.
The Selah’s light jubilee harmony style was in stark contrast to to the new gospel singing of the Soul Stirrers and others whose songs would often be stretched out to ten or fifteen minutes. The Selahs kept the lighter jubilee feel though they added a soulful ballad singing nature to it. (Ray Funk. Liner notes, DOCD 5500).
They sing the same lyrics as as Morris’ version (”…if you please”) but the verse ”Thru this world…” is omitted.
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE made the song famous by her recording two months after Selah, New York 1 December 1941 (Decca De8594, Document DOCD-5334) Her version is very different form Selah’s; the tempo is faster and her own guitar accompaniment is very rocky (she was called “The Godmother of Rock n’ Roll…) She uses Morris’ lyrics, too.
”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” was soon accepted by jazz bands and was also one of the most popular funeral tunes. George Lewis says in an interview:
First time I heard Closer Walk with Thee I heard it sung slow. That was in the late thirties, I believe. The first time I played it was with the Eureka band (—). We heard it on a music box, and a woman asked us to play it for a funeral, and we played it without any music. The tune was not known in New Orleans before that time.” (Tom Bethell: “George Lewis – A jazzman from New Orleans” p. 114f).
He also reports that John Casimir’s band first played the song at a funeral. The deceased was a man who had been killed with a knife at a bar, when he would put money in the jukebox to play Closer Walk with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. After that it was always played at funerals.
The song is most certainly of black origin but was adapted by white musicians after some years. The first white recording was probably by the British pianist Tony Short in 1945. Graeme Bell’s band from Australia recorded it in 1947 and the Country singer Red Foley had a big hit in 1950.
“Just a Closer Walk” is closely associated with George Lewis, and he also made the first jazz recording of the song.
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS NEW ORLEANS STOMPERS 1943-05-15 Edgar Moseley’s home, St Philip Street, New Orleans
George Lewis clarinet, Jim Robinson trombone, Lawrence Marrero banjo and Edgar Moseley drums rehearsed the day before the famous and groundbreaking “Climax Session”. The rehearsal took place without a trumpet player. Their tempo was even faster than Rosetta Tharpe’s.
The rehearsal session was not released on the Climax label below. “A Closer Walk with Thee” was first issued by American Music as B-side of “Burgundy Street Blues” (78 RPM) from 27 July 1944.
Re-issued on AMCD-100.
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS NEW ORLEANS STOMPERS 1943-05-16 Gypsy Tea Room, St Ann Street, New Orleans, “The Climax Session”.
Bunk Johnson was in California and the producers were not sure about the suggested trumpet player Avery “Kid” Howard. Luckily they hired Howard – the session was a huge hit. It was intended to be issued on Blue Note, but due to possible problems with the musicians’ union the owners Lyon and Wolfe chose a look-alike label called Climax Records. There were three takes, all of them in a fast tempo.
Master CD 107-1: 78 RPM Climax 103
Master 108 and 116 were issued on Japanese Dan LP VC7021 and on Mosaic CD MD3-132
BUNK’S BRASS BAND 1945-05-17, George Lewis’s backyard, 827 St Philip Street, New Orleans, LA, 3:15 to 7:30 pm.
This was the first-ever recording of a New Orleans brass band. The group consisted of Bunk Johnson and Kid Shots Madison trumpets, Jim Robinson trombone, George Lewis E flat clarinet, Isidore Barbarin alto horn, Adolphe Alexander baritone horn, Joe Clark bass horn, Baby Dodds snare drum and Lawrence Marrero on bass drum.. Closer Walk was performed in a slow, dirge-like tempo. The two takes were issued on several labels.
Master 895 on Japanese Dan label and 896 on American Music LP 638 BLUES AND SPIRITUALS.
BUNK JOHNSON AND HIS NEW ORLEANS BAND 1945-12-06 Victor Studio, 155 East 24th Street, New York City.
In 1945-46 George Lewis visited New York for concerts at Stuyvesant Café with Bunk Johnson’s band. The line-up was Bunk, George Lewis, Big Jim Robinson, Lawrence Marrero, Alton Purnell, Alcide ”Slow Drag” Pavageau and Baby Dodds. They recorded for Decca and Victor.
There were four takes of ”A Closer Walk with Thee”. The two fast versions A and D have been issued.
Take ’A’ D5VB887-1: Dawn Club DC 12012, Document CD
Dawn Club DC 12012
DOCD1001, VOLUME 1 NEW YORK
Take ’B’ False start, unissued
Take ’C’ Slower tempo, unissued
Take ’D’ D5VB887-2
Vic 40-0127, ”A Closer Walk with Thee” was issued in album HJ7 ”NEW ORLEANS JAZZ – BUNK JOHNSON AND HIS NEW ORLEANS BAND”
GEORGE LEWIS AT HERBERT OTTO´S PARTY 1949-11-23 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA
When Bunk Johnson left his band, the leadership was taken over by George Lewis.
”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” was recorded in a medium tempo (time 2.17), with the trumpeter Herb Morand. It was issued on Jazzology JCE24 (1987) and re-issued on American Music AMCD-74. The track starts with vocal by the drummer Joe Watkins.
An article in Look magazine the following year (with photos by none other than Stanley Kubrick!) made the George Lewis band known outside New Orleans. John Ball, a professor of English at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, heard the band at El Morocco in 1952 and became so enthusiastic that he invited the band to Ohio to give the audience ”Folk Music”. George agreed, although he didn’t feel that the band’s music was ”folk”. Trumpeter during the tour to Ohio was Percy Humphrey, who had succeeded Elmer Talbert who died suddenly in 1950.
GENE MAYL’S BAND WITH GEORGE LEWIS 1952-05-17 John Ball’s basement, Silver Lane, Oxford
A fast version of Closer Walk was recorded at a jam session with Gene Mayl’s Band and some of Lewis band members. It was issued on the Book CD “The Fabulous George Lewis Band”. (Burgundy Street Press, 2010).
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND OF NEW ORLEANS 1953-03-19 Miami University Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
When the band returned to Ohio in 1953, they recorded ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee”. This session was remarkable and historic for two reasons. It was the first time the later classic band with Kid Howard etc recorded. Additionally it was premiere of what would be a hallmark of George Lewis recordings of Closer Walk: the slow piano introduction followed by some slow choruses, Joe Watkins singing and the transition to faster tempo marked with a break by Purnell. Many bands have since adopted this version. Slow songs, ”dirges” were played at funerals on the way to the cemetery, but on the way home, the tempo was faster. I guess that Lewis wanted to show this through the tempo change.
American Music AMCD-24 THE OXFORD SERIES – VOL. 4
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND OF NEW ORLEANS 1953-03-21 Benton Hall
Two days later there was a concert at Benton Hall, where the band demonstrated the dirge style. Purnell and Pavageau were omitted, Marrero played the bass drum.
American Music AMCD-28 THE OXFORD SERIES – VOL. 8 CONCERT 2nd HALF
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND OF NEW ORLEANS 1953-03-22 Holy Episcopal Trinity Church, Oxford, Ohio
One of the most important events in jazz history took place on 22 March, 1953. Rev. Alvin Kershaw, who attended the concert in Benton Hall 1952, was deeply moved by the Music:
I was overwhelmed by the ensemble and have never enjoyed anything more in my life. I shall always be glad for being able to be present for that fine performance. Whenever the band returns, we certainly do hope to have them in church to play some of the spirituals that they customarily play as part of the funeral procedure.
And that is just what happened. The band was invited to Kershaw’s church for a service March 22, 1953. It was recorded, but the tapes remained unissued until Barry Martyn in 1990 was assigned to care for and rehabilitate 17 tapes containing previously unreleased material.
It was a new experience for the band to play in a church. In New Orleans, this had not been possible according to Nick Gagliano, the band’s manager. One could expect strong reactions from the more conservative members, but the church is adjacent to the Miami University and many of the members were students who were open to new ideas. The recording is historically important: this was the first documented occasion when a complete, secular jazz band was a subsumed part of a church service in the United States. Louis Lince argues in a review that this is probably one of the most important jazz historical documents published in recent years.
A classic recording session by the Lewis band with Howard took place in the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Oxford, Ohio in March of 1953 when the band recorded a service of spirituals. That session is believed to be the first ever by a jazz band in a church and it is notable from our point of view for the very restrained, almost reverent manner in which Howard plays. When we remember however that he was a devout and very active Baptist – regularly attending the Mount Zion Hill church just round the corner from his home in New Orleans – then suddenly his playing on this session makes a lot more sense. It is almost as if his trumpet is praying – maybe it was? Certainly the evident reverence is musically unique.
Just a Closer Walk is here played in a slow tempo.
The 1953 recordings were issued in 1993 on American Music AMCD-29 THE OXFORD SERIES – VOL. 9 CHURCH SERVICE REHEARSAL AND PARTY
GEORGE LEWIS 1953-05-26&27, Hollywood, CA, ”Beverly Caverns Sessions
Just a Closer Walk became an almost mandatory feature of GLS repertoire, with the same slow – fast structure as before: They recorded it live session at Beverly Caverns, but it was not released until 41 years later.
Good Time Jazz GTJCD-12058-2 (issued Nov. 4 1994!
GEORGE LEWIS NEW ORLEANS RAGTIME BAND 1953-06-18 NBC Studios, San Francisco
First issued on a private 10” LP, Antone 1. A copy was sold at Ebay in 2013 (to an extremely low price for this very rare LP). Popsike comment:
This is Antone Records 1 & 2, George Lewis And His Ragtime Band, a white and red, deep groove label, blue vinyl original private label, mono issue of this extremely rare double 10″ Lp set recorded in San Francisco in 1953. The records are in near mint condition showing almost no signs of wear. They play quietly throughout. They were obtained from the estate of the original producer and I do not believe they had ever been played before I play graded them. The records are packaged in two heavy plastic outer sleeves. There are no liner notes but all the necessary information is on the labels. The labels are excellent and show no spindle marks. This is a superb, collector’s grade copy of this extremely rare and wonderful original private issue.
CD Delmark DD 201 USA 2001
Most of the program is comprised of old chestnuts the septet played innumerable times, but it’s no less refreshing to hear them rip through them yet again. Spirituals and blues form the crux. The slow drag melancholy introduction of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” is given an unusually long reading before the inevitable shift into overdrive signaled by Purnell’s bright segue and Watkins’ bouncing sticks. (Derek Taylor, all-about-jazz)
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND 1953-10-26 Capital Recording Studios, Melrose Avenue, Hollywood.
This session is probably the most well-known of all. It was issued on JazzMan 501 (78 RPM) and has been re-issued several times.
JazzMan 501, courtesy Lars Tidholm
The liner notes by Wayne C. Lockwood on JazzMan LP LJ 331 read:
Then, as a fitting culmination, came another recording that may well be a classic – A Closer Walk With Thee. The remarkable Joe Watkins vocal – mellow, strong and colorful – combines with Avery ’Kid’ Howard’s moving chant to bring to life one of the great spirituals of Americana (sic!)
Comment from Trygve Hernæs:
This is my favourite G. L. session. It was recorded on a tape recorder, so all forms of records, 78, EP and LP are dubbings. The closest to the original tape is actually the GTJ CD issue, which is a cloning of the master, and is absolutely essential for any G. L. collector.
Good Time Jazz GTJCD 12062-2
GEORGE LEWIS BAND 1953-11-?? San Francisco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LsuHXaB2_0
This performance by the Lewis band was video taped and is simply the best filmed performance by that band at it’s best – relaxed and still playing mainly ensemble style. The late Phil Elwood, SF music columnist and KPFA programmer, was the MC. (Comment on YouTube)
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS RAGTIME BAND 1954-02-21 Holy Trinity Episcopal Church”, Oxford, Ohio
Eleven numbers were recorded. Four of them (including Just a Closer Walk) were not issued on the original Empiric LP ”Spirituals in Ragtime”, but later on Riverside RLP12-230 ”Jazz at Vespers” (which is also the title of my book about the relationship between jazz and religion, with a detailed chapter on the Oxford performances and an extensive discography.)
Just a Closer Walk was first recorded as ”balance finder”: a complete, slow version. The recording from the service differs slightly from the other standardized versions. The piano introduction is omitted (of technical reasons?) and Joe Watkins mixes up the vocal choruses…
For detailed information about the Oxford sessions see https://jazzhistoria.se/2014/01/14/alton-purnell-part-3/
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS NEW ORLEANS STOMPERS 1954-05-28 Bakersfield, CA
This long version (time 9,45!) is announced by George Lewis as a funeral tune.
Blue Note BLP1208,
Giants of Jazz CD 53186 (1996)
GEORGE LEWIS BAND WDSU 1954-06-25 Radio Station, New Orleans, LA
Percy Humphrey (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) George Lewis (cl) Jeanette Kimball (p) Johnny St. Cyr (g) Frank Fields (b) Paul Barbarin (d) Sister Elizabeth Eustis, Jack Delaney (vcl).
Liner notes on SLP 195 by Albert McCarthy
Lewis is the leader on the final five tracks, although this time wit a pick-up group from a 1954 recording date. ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” introduces the gospel singer Sister Elizabeth Eustis ia a good performance (—). Jeanette Kimball’s neat,crisp piano is an advantage and the ensemble is at its most assertative on the spiritual ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee”.
LP Storyville (Dan) SLP195 (cover has wrong date, June 17)
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND OF NEW ORLEANS 1955-02-28 Concert, Benton Hall, Miami University, Oxford, OH
American Music AMCD-34
GEORGE LEWIS RAGTIME BAND OF NEW ORLEANS 1955-03-01 Dr. John Ball’s home, Oxford, Ohio
American Music AMCD30 [CD]
JAM SESSION 1956-10-22 at Frank Demond´s Place, South Burnside Avenue, Los Angeles
14 tunes recorded but never issued.
Some concerts during George Lewis’ European tours 1957 and 1959 were recorded, but not issued.
1957-01-25 Croydon, UK
1959-02-01 Free Trade Hall, London, UK
1959-02-08 KB-Hallen, Copenhagen, Denmark
1959-02-21 Sönderjyllandshallen, Åbenrå, Denmark,
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ PARTY 1958-08-11 WDSU Radio-TV Station, Royal Street, New Orleans
The final number, a very fast When the Saints, starts with a slow trombone chorus of Just a Closer Walk with Thee.
Jazz Crusade JCCD-3054
KID THOMAS VALENTINE’S BAND 1961-11-?? Preservation Hall
Filmed for Huntley-Brinkley TV show.
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS RAGTIME BAND 1963-07-03 Peterborough, New Hampshire
The 1953 band with two exceptions: Charlie Hamilton piano and Emanuel Sayles banjo. A long version (10.45) with an excietd audience, clapping 1-3… Alton´s piano break is taken by Sayles. Recorded live on private tape. Issued in 1989 on LP Music Mecca (Denmark) ML132. THE SPIRIT OF NEW ORLEANS. Album notes have incorrect year of 1961.
Re-issued on Music Mecca CD1014-2
GEORGE LEWIS AT THE BOSTON ARTS FESTIVAL, 1963-07-05 Boston .
Public Gardens open air concert, Recorded but not issued.
GEORGE LEWIS ALL STARS 1963-08-19 TBS TV-Broadcast, Tokyo, Japan
GEORGE LEWIS ALL STARS 1963-08-20 Live ”Kosai-Nenkin Hall”, Tokyo, Japan
King (Jap)SKJ3009, (No image available)
GEORGE LEWIS BAND WITH THE NEW ORLEANS RASCALS 1963-09-02 Sankey Kaikan-American Cultural Center, Osaka, Japan
GEORGE LEWIS, Live 1963-10-17 Osaka Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan
Punch Miller tp, Louis Nelson tb, George Lewis cl, Joe Robichaux p, Emanuel Sayles bj, Papa John Joseph b, Joe Watkins dr.
Just a Closer Walk is performed in a ”Funeral Scene” together with Just a Little While to Stay Here and You Radcal You.
GEORGE LEWIS Live 1963-11-20 ”Tennoji-Kaikam Hall”, Osaka, Japan
GHB 15, BCD15 [CD] GEORGE LEWIS IN JAPAN, VOLUME TWO
GEORGE LEWIS WITH KID THOMAS’ BAND 1965-01-23 Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Recorded for Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University. Not commercially released.
During the 1965 Europe tour George recorded ”Just a Closer Walk with Thee” with Barry Martyn’s band, somewhere in England. No details, probably not issued.
GEORGE LEWIS WITH BARRY MARTYN’S BAND 1965-03-06 ”The Dancing Slipper”, Nottingham, UK
Jazz Folio JF101 [Cass], No image available.
GHB BCD-37 CD, 1969(?) ”For Dancers Only”
GEORGE LEWIS AND HIS NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND 1965-06-13 ”City Hall”, Kokura, Japan
Dan (Jap)VC4028 GEORGE LEWIS IN JAPAN Vol. 3 (double LP) (No image available)
BILLIE AND DEE DEE PIERCE AND THEIR PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND 1966-04-26 Preservation Hall, New Orleans
Preservation Hall VH3, VPS3 [CD]
KEN COLYER’S JAZZMEN WITH GEORGE LEWIS 1966-09-11 ”Manchester Sports Guild”, Manchester
Lake (E)LACD27 [CD]
GEORGE LEWIS WITH KID THOMAS’ BAND 1967-07-04 Jazz Festival in Columbia, S.C.
This was perhaps one of the most remarkable sessions with George Lewis, where he played with Kid Thomas’ band. The multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk joined the band for three numbers, but (unfortunately) not Closer Walk… No known recordings, but there is a photo.
GEORGE LEWIS WITH KID THOMAS’ BAND 1967-07-13/14 Emporium of Jazz, Mendota, Minnesota
Two sessions with Kid Thomas, Some of the numbers were issued on Jazz Macon Club JMC 137 & JMC 157, but Just a Closer Walk was omitted.
GEORGE LEWIS WITH KID THOMAS’ BAND 1968
George’s last recording was never issued.. They played Algiers Strut, Kid Thomas Boogie-Woogie, Tin Roof Bluers and – JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE…
Several Swedish bands have recorded Closer Walk, the earliest one being BLACK BOTTOM STOMPERS from Stockhol m, December 1950. LANDALA RED HOT STOMPERS from Gothenburg made an extremely fast version in April 1957. My own band, GÖTA RIVER JAZZMEN, made two official recordings of the tune.
According to Boyer the song was in 1992 translated into eleven languages, including Swedish ”Låt mig vandra nära dig” translated by Lennart Thanner published in song booklet Jag sjunger var jag går (1965). There is also a secular ttanslation by Lasse Green (Peter Himmelstrand): ”Hälsa Mikael från mig”.
Information from the following sources:
Fält, Lennart and Håkan Håkansson: Hymn to George. Second edition. Blood & Tears Productions, 2001.
Eatherton, Fred and Mike Hazeldine: Bunk Johnson: A Discography.Bunk Johnson Information, 2006.
Wågerman, Ingemar. Jazz at Vespers: Jazz och religion. Self-published. Hönö 2013
Boyer, Horace Clarence “How Sweet the Sound”,
Reagon Johnson, Bernice”We’ll Understand It Better By and By”
Encyclopedia of African American Music
Cowper, William and John Newton. Olney Hymns
Songs of Joy and Gladness
The Highway Hymnal
Collins Ace. Turn Your Radio on
America´s Favorite Radio Songs 1947
Universal Songs and Hymns
Bethell, Tom. George Lewis – A jazzman from New Orleans
Bärnheim, Björn. George Lewis on CD: A Bio-Discography. Self-published, 2000.
Cottrill, Robert. Today in 1769 – O for a Closer Walk written. Wordwise Hymns, http://wordwisehymns.com/2010/12/06/today-in-1821-dorothy-greenwell-born/
Cottrill, Robert. O for a Closer Walk with God. http://wordwisehymns.com/2012/02/20/o-for-a-closer-walk-with-god/
Melodies of Praise. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1957