To borrow from the Mohammad adage, if you cannot go to the jazz, the jazz will come to you. Save your frequent flyer miles for a different trip: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is on tour and will deliver fine New Orleans jazz right to your doorstep via the Jackson Conference Center in Pueblo on Sunday, Sept. 19.
The band is named after the club in which it was born, the famous Preservation Hall in New Orleans. The building needs painting, the floorboards are loose, and the seating is eclectic to say the least. Still, for more than 40 years, it has served as a meeting place for musicians, writers and artists, including Louis Armstrong, who said, "Preservation Hall, now that's where you'll find all the greats."
Over the years, the hall has served as a central gathering place for the city's many acclaimed jazz musicians. Originally, tuba player Allan Jaffe ran the hall and organized tours for musicians who regularly played there. A septet consisting of a piano, string bass, banjo, drums, trumpet or coronet, trombone and clarinet has traveled worldwide, including to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and to London to perform before royalty.
Preservation Hall began as a place for the older musicians to play, to actually "preserve" musical traditions. It eventually became the place to go to learn how to play and enjoy authentic New Orleans jazz. As the older musicians passed on or retired, younger acolytes took their place. Today, Preservation Hall's musicians include Ben Jaffe, Ralph Johnson, Joseph Lastie Jr., Rickie Monie, Frank Demond, John Brunious and Don Vappie.
While many of the members fell into playing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, others seemed born to it. Jaffe (founder Allen Jaffe's son) is co-manager of Preservation Hall and bassist for the band. Lastie, a drummer whose YMCA music classmates were the young Wynton and Branford Marsalis, says, "When my family moved to New York, it was funny because I used to look at the Preservation Hall band on TV. I'd see Mr. Percy and Mr. Willie [Humphrey] dancing around the stage.
"It was beautiful, man. I never dreamed I'd ever play with this band and now I do. I still play gospel, I play rhythm and blues, I play the Mardi Gras/Longhair style -- and yes, I want to keep playing that music too. But there's no place I'd rather play than Preservation Hall, with this band."
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has a distinctive style. Originating in the early part of the century, New Orleans jazz is not to be confused with the two-beat Dixieland jazz. The tempo is a little slower than other jazz forms, and the melody rings clear, with improvisation at its heart. Unobscured by complicated arrangements, its greatness lies in its simplicity.
Many of the toe-tapping melodies of New Orleans jazz are inspired by raw emotion. Trombonist Demond remarks, "[Charter member] Billie Pierce used to say to DeDe [Pierce], 'Play it pretty for the people.' That's the way our music is. You give it to the people, and the people give back. The listener, the musician and the music become one. It's effortless, a great communion. And each time it happens, it's a miracle. I can feel the hair stand up on my arms right now, just thinking about it."
-- Kara Luger
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Sunday, Sept. 19
7:30 p.m.; $20
Jackson Conference Center Sangre de Cristo Arts Center
210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center Box Office, 719-295-7222