The famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been keeping traditional New Orleans jazz alive for five decades. Still 14 members strong, their style is often referred to as "Dixieland" — a term they disavow. (Preservation Hall, by the way, refers both to the numerous bands that have performed there, and the revered venue located on 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter.) Their sound features ensemble interaction and exchanges more than lengthy solos and individual virtuosity, even though the band always features exceptional players. The instrumentation also differs from modern jazz combos, with multiple trombonists and trumpeters at the forefront rather than reed players. Banjo and tuba are in the mix as well, alongside bass, drums and piano. Preservation's songs are a mix of vintage spirituals, blues, pre-rock pop and folk tunes, plus occasional new material, and aren't played at the furious tempos common in jazz circles since the advent of bop.
But current bandleader and bassist/tubist Ben Jaffee admits few group projects have generated more discussion and interest than last year's American Legacies: Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Del McCoury Band. The relationship that developed has subsequently fueled joint ventures, including the current tour. Still, Jaffe acknowledges it took a while for things to jell between the bands.
"It's two great genres coming together: traditional jazz and bluegrass," says Jaffe. "Del and his band had to show us things about bluegrass, and we in turn showed them things about our music. We ultimately found ways of bringing the two together. When we sat down and discussed the songs we wanted to do, we found out we weren't nearly as far apart as we thought. Bluegrass and traditional jazz share an affinity with spiritual and gospel music. They are both very much grounded in the blues. We discovered we'd been playing a lot of the same tunes in our shows. Both our musical forms have an energy and spirit that leads audiences to celebrate and want to dance. No question it was an experiment, but once we began recording, it helped broaden both our audiences and musical vision."
American Legacies rivals such classic Preservation Hall releases as Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the 1964 LP that led to the band and star vocalist Emma Barrett making an appearance in the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid, as well as New Orleans, the four-volume series issued from 1977-1987 that offered many of the Crescent City's elder jazz types a final opportunity to make their musical testimonies.
"Working with Del's band also is part of our efforts to keep stretching and expanding what we do as a band," adds Jaffe. "Both Del's sons Ronnie and Rob have toured with The Grateful Dead and done other things, but their roots remain in bluegrass. Our roots are in New Orleans traditional jazz, but we can't do the same things all the time. No music can stay alive if it doesn't incorporate new sounds and musicians and interest new audiences. We've taken our music to young people, and we discover they really enjoy the spirit and enthusiasm that is part of the sound. The same is true with Del's band. When you hear them play, you're hearing decades of tradition, but you're also hearing new twists and influences they're including within their music. That's the same thing we've done in writing new songs that are a 21st century variation on the traditional New Orleans sound."
Besides the tour, a prime item on the Preservation Hall Jazz Band 2012 agenda is a 50th anniversary project with both an audio and video component. "We feel an obligation to really mark this anniversary in a grand way," says Jaffe. "One part will be to compile some of the finest music that's been recorded at the hall and spotlight some of our finest players from the beginning to the present. We're also working on a documentary on the band that will outline the group's history, as well as that of the hall, and really put into perspective the traditional New Orleans sound. There are still a lot of misconceptions about what we do, and about the music, and we plan to correct and change that with this project. Most importantly, it will celebrate 50 years of what's been an incredible and remarkable musical legacy."
This is the first time I've heard "Chicken in Black," so I'm no apologist, but…
no d-pat, it's "fun with a 'k'"
Yes, yes I can.
Conversely, the definition of "funk" is fancy people in white boots.