Preservation Hall Jazz Band
December 22, 2013
Sunday night, I caught the legendary jazz institution, Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Brooklyn Bowl. Lead by Ben Jaffe, son of the band’s original founder and arranger, Alan Jaffe, the band recently celebrated it’s 50th anniversary and much like an institution, they were confronted with a profound, soul-searching, existential question: How does an institution based on an early 20th century musical culture survive and prosper in the 21st century? And the answer the younger Jaffe and company came up with was to look towards the future; after all, as much as jazz pays homage to the past, it’s always been a rather progressive genre, as it equally looks towards the future. And with that in mind, the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band decided to make the institution’s next 50 years about the future — by recording the band’s first album of original material in it’s history, That’s It!
Naturally, the band has been touring to support their newest effort; however, their Brooklyn Bowl show was partially a Christmas themed and partially a traditional, New Orleans and Dixieland jazz – thankfully, the set leaned much more towards traditional New Orleans jazz and Dixieland jazz. I think two hours of Christmas songs would have been a bit much, even if it were done New Orleans style.
But there’s something about jazz and the blues that strikes me as i’ve gotten older. We’re talking about a sound that has managed to be joyful and vital, immeasurably mournful within a simple turn of a phrase, a particular series of musical phrasing; for me, at least it seems to get at the cosmic joke of life – that ultimately, life is often absurd and painful and that we can partially be the cause of a good deal of that irony. Most of the material the band played was ecstatically joyful – to the point that they had the Brooklyn Bowl crowd dancing and jumping about. Of course, there were several highlights from their show but for me two in particular stood out. The first being an old time blues, that bore an emotional similarity to Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” in which the narrator laments the death of his girl. At one point he sadly wishes that he had died instead, before further lamenting that he wished her well whenever she turned up. They also played an ebullient and percussive rendition of “That’s It!,” the title track off the band’s new album. They’re a legendary institution for a reason – they play with an effortless, joyful shuffle and with charm and with they remind the world of the massively influential and beloved songs that came out of their hometown.
One of Santa’s sexy elves.
For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here: