Preservation Hall Jazz Band in Morristown, NJ

Daniel Kassell By

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Quite by surprise The Preservation Hall Jazz Band sold out the restored Community Theatre on Morristown, New Jersey's historic South Street, December 3rd, 2004 with an evening billed as "Creole Christmas".

Beginning with excerpts of a video documentary made for PBS television in 2000 the renowned Louis Armstrong told us that these guys and this music is it. Historic B&W kinescope footage interspersed or behind the talking heads of Alan Jaffe, PH founder; Don Vappie, revivalist banjoist; Ben Jaffe, inheritor of the PH legacy; David Grillier, a recent clarinetist; Sweet Emma Barrett, a progenitor pianist; trumpeter John Brunious - explaining why trumpeter De De Pierce was great; trumpeter Percy and albert system clarinetist Willie Humphrey are seen to their advantage and of course, "The Saints Go Marching In" performed in color at Preservation Hall, a New Orleans tourist destination since 1961, inspiring all 1100 of us to see the band live and in person.

Pianist Richie Monie (pronounced Moe-nay), a PH regular since 1982, described their music in the program notes as, "We Play gospel music. We play old spirituals. We play military marches. There's no end to the variety of music we play. But we play it all our way. And the more we play the more the level of happiness rises." As the first on stage alone he began some classical pianistic doodling before going into the carol "Joy to the World". John Brunious the 64-year-old white-haired son of trumpeter John, Sr. and father of trumpeter Wendell joined "Ain't She Sweet" playing a copper-tarnished brass horn and a youthful smiling banjoist Don Vappie sang and picked a solo. Joe Lastie, Jr. age 46 and at PH since 1989 drum rolls into "Bourbon Street" for Ralph Johnson, a slim mustachioed 66-year-old gent with short gray-white hair to play flying clarinet arpeggios in the ancient Algiers style of George Lewis evoking the first joyous applause in recognition of his authentic performance. Walter Payton, a robust man with his own white Santa Claus beard, who was last in New York on Broadway in "Bessie's Black Bottom", joined for an upright bass solo when from stage left Frank Demond entered wearing his famous red socks blasting slide trombone riffs lovingly borrowed from his mentor Jim Robinson. Brunious sang, "You'll see all the hot spots", the NO shuffle rhythm with the kick of a back-beat, kept this audience smilin' all throughout the round-robin of the seven members solos.

"We'd like some audience participation," trumpeter Brunious asked us - and we obliged by shouting "Shake That Thing" responsively. Proudly they point to each other directing appreciative applause to their fellow musicians as they conclude this set.

"Winter Wonderland" is followed by Ralph Johnson beginning strains of "Closer Walk with Thee" on chalameau clarinet - the low register with a New Orleans buzz. Demond continues on with robust but sweet sliding tones, Vappie sang and strummed over Monie's chimed piano notes, "Oh Lord, let it be" Demond muted wa-waing unobtrusively to "as long as I walk with thee" the band solemnly blew it out but Lastie's drum roll signaled a joyous tempo that elicits this audience to clap along (only 25% not on the right beat). Brunious was in finer form after the intermission and really blew.

"It's your last chance to get up", Brunious announced as Frank Demond descended from the stage. My Cassandra got excited when Don Vappie motioned for all of us to join in as the Second Line behind the band and many marched up the aisle to The Saints, through the lobby past the T-shirts & CD display, down the other aisle and twenty of us went right up on the stage. I saw then that the audience was standing, clapping and swaying back and forth in time to this real Carribean influenced shuffle combined with a New Orleans street-beat that continued in my head as we filed off the stage and followed the audience home.

Don't miss New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band when they come to your town.

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

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