POSTED Mon. Jul 8, 2013
Talkin’ ‘bout my Preservation
Paul Oswell
Written by PAUL OSWELL
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If you’re bandying about talk of New Orleans institutions, they don’t come more iconic than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It’s written into their very name, for starters. Call yourself ‘Preservation’ anything and you’ve got at least a partway claim to being the flagship of tradition and authenticity right there.

You’d almost forgive PHJB if they decided to let the paint crumble around them in their St Peter Street home, blowing dust around with their horns as they trundle through a tourist-soothing repertoire of familiarity. After all, the line sretches around the block every night for the PHJB gig. It’s fair to say the Hall plays the most consistently attended live music gig in New Orleans, and maybe America. Those are big laurels, and plenty of people would rest on them.

Thank God the PHJB doesn’t. Instead, they’ve made it their mission to channel the essence of New Orleans jazz while moving ever forwards. And this week’s sign of said movement drops tomorrow (July 9): the release of Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest album. Entitled That’s It! the release marks a landmark recording for PHJB: the first album of entirely original material the band has produced in their half-century history.

Think about how impressive this feat is. The Hall has figured out a way to be global ambassadors for the city’s music – what it means and where it comes from – while remaining locally relevant and constantly edging out towards progress and innovation.

“New Orleans has always been the perfect balance of the past, present and future,” says Ben Jaffe, talismanic PHJB member and son of the co-founders of Preservation Hall, Allan and Sandra Jaffe. “We’re so far behind we’re ahead. It’s important to understand and embrace your community’s past. Our past happens to be exceptionally amazing.”

Few who have ever heard Pres Hall play would disagree. About that innovation, though? Well, they’re an old school jazz band at heart, and they’re not suddenly going to turn out an album of reworked Skrillex B-sides, but as far as maintaining their heart in addition to exploring their interests, they’re doing a fine job.

The album comes at you right out of the gate like a showboating prize fighter. From the title track’s opening drum salvo, the band is spinning around you as it unleashes relentless rhythmic prowess, horns and tuba throwing musical rabbit punches. If your impression of this band is doddery jazz relics churning out comforting standards, ‘That’s It!’ will energetically and happily disabuse you of this notion.

While the freedom to compose and perform original material has obviously been energizing, Jaffe hands at least some credit to the producer, Jim James of Louisville indie heroes, My Morning Jacket.
“We met Jim in 2009,” says Jaffe. “He immediately got us. And that’s not easy. Over the years, our understanding of each other as artists, musicians and humans has evolved. I couldn’t imagine making this record without him. He’s our silent Beatle.”

‘That’s It!’ runs the gamut of PHJB’s impressive talent roster. Members step up to vocal duties with aplomb, and the versatility of the band’s instrumental arrangements conjures styles and atmospherics from all angles, from familiar New Orleans love songs to slick, 60s-style hip, urban noodlings.

It’s this quiver full of musical arrows that Preservation Hall can draw from that makes them one of the most formidable musical talents in the city. You could easily think of them collaborating with any contemporary musical performer without breaking a sweat.

I ask Jaffe if they have any dream collaborations in mind. Kanye? Daft Punk? Radiohead? “We never pursue a collaboration for the sake of the collaboration,” Jaffe says. “It has to make sense to us musically. There has to be an organic relationship there, otherwise, it won’t work and it sounds and feels like it came out of a laboratory. But yes, we do have our dream collaborations.” Pause for a smile. “We just don’t know what they are yet.”

If all Preservation Hall wanted to do was wallow in that warm, comfortable but cloying syrup of New Orleans tradition, then they wouldn’t charge $20 for playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ at their nightly shows. After this album, I think they should raise that price to at least $50, just so that we can hear whatever they want to be playing right now. ‘That’s It!’ seems to be whatever they want to be playing right now, and we should all be OK with that.

Above photo courtesy of Joshua Brasted

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    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

    WWNO

    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

    WWOZ

    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

    PRC

    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

    NOMA

    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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