A Closer Walk with Jazz

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing live right here

They make music like nobody else, anywhere else, really. Their venue is a rustic, not to say rundown, former barroom in the heart of

New Orleans

' French Quarter. No doors or

windows,

midnight after three

hours of their particular brand of jazz every evening that they're in their hometown. To call the musicians traditionalists is an understatement. Their very name says it best. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is just what that means. And they are bringing their

New Orleans

jazz tableau to the Tennessee Theatre stage this weekend on a tour that includes

Washington

,

D.C.

(the Smithsonian) and

Zurich

. They get around. They have imitators, but their sound is nonpareil.

Part of their worldwide appeal is in their presentation of the

New Orleans

jazz sound, which differs from Dixieland jazz in style and pace. Unlike the strict, 2/4 meter—some call it "ratchet music"—of Dixieland that was popularized principally in Chicago, New Orleans jazz, Dixie's elder brother, rambles mostly in 4/4 or march time, with its own slower, simpler syncopation. It's African American in origin, with a dose of hymn and early rag thrown in. It has magic to it.

It's

it

They make music like nobody else, anywhere else, really. Their venue is a rustic, not to say rundown, former barroom in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter. No doors or windows, just iron grates that swing shut at midnight after three hours of their particular brand of jazz every evening that they're in their hometown. To call the musicians traditionalists is an understatement. Their very name says it best. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is just what that means. And they are bringing their New Orleans jazz tableau to the Tennessee Theatre stage this weekend on a tour that includes Washington, D.C. (the Smithsonian) and Zurich. They get around. They have imitators, but their sound is nonpareil.

Part of their worldwide appeal is in their presentation of the New Orleans jazz sound, which differs from Dixieland jazz in style and pace. Unlike the strict, 2/4 meter—some call it "ratchet music"—of Dixieland that was popularized principally in Chicago, New Orleans jazz, Dixie's elder brother, rambles mostly in 4/4 or march time, with its own slower, simpler syncopation. It's African American in origin, with a dose of hymn and early rag thrown in. It has magic to it.

The personnel who've been performing their jazz in the hall at the corner of St. Peter and Royal Streets since 1961 has changed over the years, but not the sound. Trombonist Frank "DeDe" Demond has been there since 1965, when he was first invited to sit in with the group on a visit from L.A. The only non-native New Orleanean in the band, Demond modeled his horn style after Kid Ory, the N.O. jazz legend, and his place with the PHJB is more than secure.

Other early stylists of the genre, which is at least 100 years old and was first recorded in 1917, included King Oliver and the incomparable Louis Armstrong. Their influences abide in Preservation Hall and with the band that plays and tours from there.

Ben Jaffe, whose father Allan founded Preservation Hall and brought the band to the site when he and his wife, Sandra, visited an art gallery with New Orleans jazz background music at that location, says the hall was the first venue in the Crescent City to host mixed-race bands and mixed-race audiences.

Built as a residence in 1850, it was a tavern in the War of 1812 and sat there through the Vieux Carre's storied history, as a doctor's office, a butcher shop, a haberdashery and more, to what it's become—the most celebrated venue for a single music style played by one seven-piece band in America.

Jaffe, who plays string bass, took over the hall after his father died suddenly in 1977. Ben grew up in the Quarter and knew the hall as his second home. He started playing with the band regularly, he says, the day after graduation from Oberlin College in Ohio, where he went because of its reputation for music and academics. "I never had to study New Orleans music," he says. "None of us did. We learned to play through knowing the people who played it before us...not just as musicians, but as friends."

The present makeup of the band includes his bass, the horns of Demond and trumpeter John Brunious, with Ralph Johnson on clarinet, Rick Monie on piano, and Don Vappie on banjo. When they are in the hall, which is about eight months a year, they can attract a crowd that lines up down the street. Their songs can be heard outside, as well as in, but to experience the event that each performance becomes, you've got to witness it. It's not uncommon to hear German, Japanese, Portuguese, or other languages spoken in the queue outside the door, Jaffe says.

Like some other New Orleans jazz ensembles, the PHJB does a few of the city's famous funeral marches each year, Jaffe says, but not for hire. "It's part of our tradition," he says, "for the funerals of musicians and their families or friends." He says there is no moment quite like those that arise in a funeral procession. "No matter how many times I hear '[Just] a Closer Walk with Thee,' there's not the emotion that goes into it at a funeral."

Requests are taken at the hall, with fees Jaffe describes as "negotiable." Forty years ago, a request honored for "The Saints Go Marchin' In," the N.O. signature, called for a $5 fee in the wording of a sign on the hall wall. That's only gone up to $10 in the interim, but it's much more of a change than the music's undergone.

Trombonist Demond says the late pianist Billie Pierce used to say, "'Play it pretty for the people.' That's the way our music is. You give it to the people, and the people give it back. The listener, the musician and the music become one. It's 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."

Who: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

When: Saturday, April 23, 8 p.m.

Where: Tennessee Theatre

How much: $19-$36.50

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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