Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Florence Wetzel BY

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The New Orleans club Preservation Hall is one of the most respected jazz institutions in this country, and quite possibly the world. Founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the club provided a much needed niche for first generation jazz musicians who had difficulty finding sympathetic venues. Since then Preservation Hall has become synonymous with quality jazz, and it’s as quintessential a New Orleans experience as po’ boys and crawfish.

Over 40 years later Preservation Hall is still thriving, and it has a new infusion of energy from the owners’ son, bassist Ben Jaffe. In addition to being an excellent musician, Jaffe has the business savvy and vision required to keep the club current. Along with record industry veterans Steve DeBro and Albert Lee, Jaffe is the force behind the club’s ambitious new label, Preservation Hall Recordings. The various incarnations of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have been recorded before, but this is the first time the music has been presented by those who know it best.

The label is jumping into the marketplace with three releases: Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Best of the Early Years , Preservation Hall Hot Four with Duke Dejan , and Shake That Thing.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Best of the Early Years

Preservation Hall

Best of the Early Years is a toe- tapping collection of performances from the club’s formative years, featuring artists such as Joe Robichaux, Papa John Joseph, Billie and DeDe Pierce, Percy and Willie Humphrey, and Sweet Emma Barrett. Classics such as “Down by the Riverside”, “St. James Infirmary”, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” are played with verve, vitality, and that ineffable New Orleans spirit that speaks straight to the heart. One of the pleasures of this music is hearing the prominent role of neglected instruments such as clarinet, cornet, and banjo, with Willie Humphrey’s clarinet deserving particular mention.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Hot Four with Duke Dejan

Preservation Hall

Hot Four is also special, a 1996 recording featuring the wise, warm vocals of New Orleans legend Harold “Duke” Dejan. Dejan played saxophone for most of his career, but after a stroke in the late ‘80s, he focused his talents on singing. Again, this is music of the heart; Dejan infuses every song with joy and passion, and he’s backed up by Wendell Brunious’ fat trumpet sound, as well as Jaffe on bass, Thaddeus Richard on piano, and Don Vappie on guitar and vocals. You can’t go wrong with musicians like this playing “Ain’t She Sweet”, “Basin Street Blues”, and “Lady Be Good”. The music is enhanced by Jaffe’s liner notes, where he discusses his lifelong friendship with Dejan, a sweet-tempered man whose signature phrase was “Everything’s lovely”.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Shake That Thing

Preservation Hall

Shake That Thing brings us right to the present; recorded in 2001 at Preservation Hall, the CD features combinations of the 21 active members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The eight cuts are mostly traditionals, and all feature vocalists. The music is bursting with the New Orleans sense of celebration; full-bodied and rollicking, each song displays the deep pool of talent that composes Preservation Hall’s current lineup. There’s great horn and brass work, and the rhythm sections are rock solid. The highlight is the over-the-top “Shake That Thing”; it’s good to hear grownups having so much fun.

After their well-received performance at Joe’s Pub in January, rumour has it that the Preservation Jazz Hall Band will soon return to NYC in a few months time for this year’s JVC Jazz Festival.

Kudos to Ben Jaffe for his hard work and dedication, and for keeping such important music vital. All the CDs succeed in being both fresh and familiar, easy on the soul as well as musically satisfying. Jazz fans should buy at least one, not only to hear some wonderful music, but also to support this important link to jazz’ past - and future.

Visit the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the web at www.preservationhall.com .

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