[JPL] Preservation Hall in All Its Forms By LARRY BLUMENFELD

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Thu Dec 20 07:40:27 EST 2007


Preservation Hall in All Its Forms
By LARRY BLUMENFELD

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119801883610337759.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Three distinct groups lined up on St. Peter Street, just off Bourbon Street,
one recent Sunday evening. The first awaited tall cocktails called
"Hurricanes" at Pat O'Brien's bar. The second had signed up for a "ghost
tour" through the French Quarter. The third sought passage through the iron
gates at 726, better known as Preservation Hall. Once inside, that last
group sat in a dusty room on benches and narrow floor cushions, sans food or
beverages, seeking to drink in only traditional jazz and to commune with a
singularly haunted spot.

Around 1960, Larry Borenstein first began inviting musicians to perform in
the art gallery he'd created within a c. 1750 building, once a private home,
in the French Quarter. But when Allan Jaffe, fresh out of Wharton Business
School, and his wife, Sandra, took over the operation in 1961, the place
became a full-time music hall dedicated to a style that was, then as now,
threatened with extinction. Mr. Jaffe hired standard-bearing players and
paid full union scale (a rarity in those days). He began making recordings
and assembled bands that toured under the Preservation Hall name.


Always a strong tourist attraction, the hall has also held special appeal
for some locals, occasionally with life-altering effect. In his book, "Song
for My Fathers: A New Orleans Story in Black and White," Tom Sancton, a New
Orleans native and former Time magazine Paris bureau chief, offered this
2005 reflection upon returning to Preservation Hall:

"I placed my hands on the wrought-iron gates and peered into the
carriageway. It looked just like it had on that hot summer night when my
father first took me there, more than forty years earlier, and opened the
door to the most profound experience of my life. . . . I immediately fell in
love with the music, the people, and the funky atmosphere -- and decided to
become a jazz musician myself." Mr. Sancton, who once studied clarinet at
the feet of one of Preservation Hall's masters, George Lewis, still plays
his instrument. Now a visiting professor at Tulane University, he
occasionally performs at Preservation Hall (billed as "Tommy"), often
sitting in the same chair Mr. Lewis once occupied.

For those who've never visited the place, the touring band is the face of
Preservation Hall. Yet, good as the group is -- little can rival, for
instance, the two-beat-to-the-bar swing conjured by drummer Joe Lastie on
his stripped-down kit -- there's more to Preservation Hall than just music:
There's a sense of place and purpose, history and context.

All this comes alive through "Made in New Orleans," a fascinating new boxed
set created by Ben Jaffe, the 36-year-old son of Allan and Sandra, who has
run the hall and all its associated activities ever since he graduated in
1993 from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Most will purchase
"Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions" for its 17-track CD of old and
new recordings and its companion DVD. But many will end up treasuring the
package as much for the accompanying memorabilia: publicity photos and
casual snapshots; business cards and invitations; even the first artist
contract issued by the hall in 1961 -- $13.50 per musician and double for
the leader, Punch Miller. Mr. Jaffe created 504 collector's editions -- the
number signifying the local area code -- each of which contains some
original photos and an unreleased seven-inch vinyl recording; he sold them
for $150, initially only in New Orleans, through the annual Jazz & Heritage
Festival and at the hall. The collector's edition and a deluxe edition ($70,
sans only the original photos and bonus seven-inch disc) are now available
nationwide.

LISTEN IN
 

Clips from the album "The Hurricane Sessions":
€ "Over in the Gloryland"1
€ "Complicated Life"2
€ "It's Your Last Chance to Dance"3
Mr. Jaffe plays tuba in the Preservation Hall Band, as did his father. But
arriving for an interview at a favorite coffee shop on his bicycle, his
unruly tangle of dirty-blond curls swaying in the breeze, he didn't look
much like a traditionalist. "My father was always conscious of the tender
tension between the past and present in New Orleans and in this music," he
said. "The name 'Preservation Hall' never meant that things should not
evolve."

Indeed, the new CD masterfully blends old and new: Some tracks predate even
the hall's name (via 1959 recordings by street poet, painter and singer
Sister Gertrude Morgan), while others introduce both new voices and new
repertoire (Clint Maedgen sings a version of Ray Davies's "Complicated
Life," a song made famous by the British rock band the Kinks). Yet there's
fascinating continuity from, say, the DVD's gorgeous c. 1960s clip of George
Lewis playing "Red Wing" to the current band's 2006 version of "Last Chance
to Dance." The studio trickery that mixes banjoist Carl Leblanc's vocal on
"Over in the Gloryland," recorded last year, with a 1976 instrumental
version emphasizes this point.

Like Mr. Jaffe, trumpeter John Brunious, who has led the Preservation Hall
band since 1996, was born into this tradition. As a boy he watched Paul
Barbarin, who didn't read or write musical notation, hum "Bourbon Street
Parade" as his father, also a trumpeter, transcribed; even today, Mr.
Barbarin's song is a staple of the Preservation Hall repertoire. "We all
have our own styles," Mr. Brunious said recently after a performance, "but
we strive most of all to play the music as correctly as we can, to keep the
music honest and going strong."

Preservation Hall's traditions -- its very existence -- are important keys
to recovery in New Orleans. "There aren't too many places left near Bourbon
Street where you can play traditional jazz," said trombonist Glen David
Andrews, whose Lazy Six Band often plays there on Sundays. "And playing this
one means that you're authentic." The hall has aided rebuilding in more
direct ways, too. Shortly after the floods, Mr. Jaffe co-founded a
musicians' relief effort now known as the Renew Our Music Fund, supporting
the New Orleans music community with everything from gig subsidies to
"community leader" grants. That fund was, in turn, instrumental in creating
Sweet Home New Orleans, an umbrella organization helping musicians and other
tradition-bearers with a range of services, including relocation and housing
assistance.

"It always comes back to what the musicians want and what the music needs,"
says Mr. Jaffe, sounding quite a bit like his father, as glimpsed on the new
DVD, during a 1961 episode of the "Brinkley News Hour."

"Jazz here on Bourbon Street is what people seem to think is going to sell
drinks," Allan Jaffe says on camera. "What we're trying to do here is just
present the music the way they want to play it. . . . The people come here
to hear just the music, and I think the men realize this. The men play it
the way the want to play it, and the people hear it."

Mr. Blumenfeld is working on a book about cultural recovery in New Orleans.
He writes about jazz for the Journal.

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