Jazz Etc. / Paul de Barros
Just don't call it Dixieland: Preservation Hall Jazz Band brings true New Orleans jazz to town
Over its near-100-year life span, jazz has evolved swiftly through a bewildering array of styles, but the melodious racket that first erupted in New Orleans never seems to go out of fashion.
Though the Crescent City was slow, at first, to memorialize its jazz past — perhaps because of the music's humble origins — in 1961, an art dealer named Larry Borenstein established a "living museum" for early jazz called Preservation Hall.
For the past 43 years, the hall has offered bargain performances — open to families — as well as sending an authentic, in-house band on international tours.
At 8 p.m. tomorrow, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays the Paramount Theatre ($24.50-$42.50; 206-292-2787).
"What's interesting about the band is that the guys in it today are direct descendants of the guys who played in the early '60s," observes bassist Ben Jaffe, who grew up in the French Quarter, two blocks from Preservation Hall. "We're really carrying on a family tradition."
Jaffe's father, Allan, played tuba with Preservation Hall and, along with his wife, Sandra, managed the facility. Ben continues the tradition, both as player and administrator.
Jaffe's reference to family is not just a warm-and-fuzzy homily. The early New Orleans funeral and fraternal societies that supported jazz — and today build Mardi Gras floats — are in fact family-based. In spirit, New Orleans is still a small town, and family a tight, clannish affair. Witness the powerful Marsalis bunch.
"You can't burn a bridge in New Orleans," Jaffe says, "because everybody knows everybody."
Staggering age differences prevail in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from 31-year-old Jaffe to banjo man Narvin Kimball, 88. Why would a young musician with a performance degree from Oberlin College want to play old-fashioned music like this?
"After college," answers Jaffe, "when I came back to New Orleans and started performing, I realized this was the music I'd grown up listening to my whole life. I just thought, 'This was where I belong. This was what I was meant to play.' "
Though various revivals of classic jazz have been dubbed Dixieland, New Orleanians are careful not to use this word.
"Dixieland and New Orleans traditional jazz are two different styles," Jaffe avers. "Dixieland came about in St. Louis and Chicago and New York. New Orleans is much more dignified music because it came out of the culture of New Orleans."
That said, the band's most recent album, "Because of You," mixes New Orleans classics, such as Sidney Bechet's alluring "Petite Fleur," with standard pop vocals like "Girl of My Dreams" and "Exactly Like You."
"New Orleans jazz evolved as a form of entertainment, to be played at parties and parades," he says. "It's never lost that feeling."
On a more modern note, world-inflected guitarist and composer Joel Harrison, whose quartet includes the phenomenal jazz bassoonist Paul Hanson, appears Monday on the Rainbow's excellent Oxygen Lounge series, on a double bill with local free-improvising saxophonist Wally Shoup ($5; 206-634-1761).
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.