Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wonderful Celebration of 50 Years of Preservation Hall

A half century ago, several New Orleans lovers decided to present performances of some of the living masters of traditional New Orleans Jazz in a setting removed from the hucksterism that was part of the Bourbon Street scene at the time. It was an opportunity to present such artists as George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Billie and DeDe Pierce, Sweet Emma Barrett, Alton Purnell, Kid Howard, Percy Humphrey and so many others in a setting that gave them a respect their artistry merited. These concerts evolved in what we know as Preservation Hall, and while these artists became legendary in traditional jazz and have all passed on, Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have become iconic and institutions.

Celebrating a half century is a new box set on Columbia/Legacy by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The 50th Anniversary Collection. It is taken from several sources including three of the albums Atlantic issued in a series of Jazz at Preservation Hall along with recordings made by Preservation Hall itself and some of those issued on CBS (later Sony). From recordings documenting the bands that played at Preservation Hall to the contemporary editions of the Preservation Hall, one has a richness of music and performances. Also included are some of collaborations with artists from outside Preservation Hall that were on some of the more recent recordings of the Hall. There are some previously unissued recordings among the 57 tracks that are spread across the 4 CDs in this box.

Old and new are intermixed throughout. For example, the first disc opens with the late Allan Jaffe introducing the band on tour followed by a rollicking Eh La Bas by Billie and DeDe Pierce from 1966, followed by the 1986 Band with Percy and Willie Humphrey on Oh Didn’t He Ramble. Then we hear from the same 1986 session Narvin Kimball singing I Get the Blues When It Rains, which is followed by a 2008 recording of St. James Infirmary, with Clint Maedgen with a hyperactive vocal and a hot latin-infused groove. Then there is a 2009 rendition of Ice Cream, a perennial of the George Lewis and other bands half a century ago and then we go back to 1967 for a marvelous rendition of the Humphrey Brothers led band doing the Leroy Carr classic In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down), with pianist James ‘Sing’ Miller handling the vocal, and George Lewis’ 1962 recording of Down By the Riverside

Here is the Preservation hall Jazz Band performing at Wolf Trap National Park in Virginia

There is such a richness of material here that I will only reference some of the gems that include the marvelous rendition of In the Evening, referred to above; I’m Alone Because I Love You, featuring the irascible Sweet Emma Barrett; a wonderful Do Lord from 1994 featuring Wendell Brunious singing and on trumpet and a band that included Ellis Marsalis on piano, and Dr. Michael White on clarinet; Billie and DeDe Pierce’s St. James Infirmary, with Billie’s vocal, and George Lewis’ clarinet; Pete Seeger and friends joining for a spirited We Shall Overcome; Tuba Fats’ vocal on His Eye Is On The Sparrow; Nellie Gray, a marvelous vocal by Percy Humphrey on a previously unissued 1986 recording; a rendition of Lil Liza Jane, with Louis Jones on trumpet and benefiting from Shannon Powell’s R&B tinged drums and vocal; Kid Howard’s vocal on the George Lewis Band’s rendition of In the Sweet Bye and Bye; and I’ll Fly Away, from the 2010 collaboration with the Del McCoury Band.

Other gems include Blue Yodel #9, a revival of the Jimmie Rodgers country recording that Louis Armstrong played on the original; George Lewis’ hauntingly beautiful Burgundy Blues; Sweet Emma leading the group on Chimes Blues, originally recorded by King Oliver’s at a historic 1923 session for Gennett; a marvelous take on “Sing On,” a staple of the Brass Bands repertoire; the spirited 1976 take of Joe Avery; Shake That Thing, a revival of a late twenties Sam Morgan recording with a vocal by Clint Maedgen and nice interplay between Charlie Gabriel on clarinet, Freddie Lonzo on trombone and Mark Braud on trumpet; the lovely 1966 Freight Train Blues, with Billie Pierce’s heartfelt vocal and clarinet by George Lewis; and Punch Miller’s 1962 rendition of the languid Nobody Knows The Way I Fell This Morning.

More gems include the bluesy collaboration with Tom Waits of an old Mardi Gras chant Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing; a nice rendition of Paul Barbarin’s Bourbon Street Parade; Ralph Johnson’s clarinet rendition of Sidney Bechet’s Le Petit Fleur; One More ‘Fore I Die, another collaboration with the Del McCoury Band with lovely clarinet by Clarinet Gabriel and mandolin by Ronnie McCoury; Percy Humphrey vocal on the spirited Shake It and Break It; the beautiful funeral march Westward Dirge that is played straight with little improvisation; and Richie Haven’s moving vocal on Trouble on Mind, with considerable restraint shown in the Band’s backing.

In addition to the music, Bruce Boyd Raeburn provides an overview of Preservation Hall’s history. Current Hall Creative Director, Ben Jaffe whose father Allan had a similar role with the Hall for several decades, provides his own commentary on each of the selections contained in this box set. My advance copy only had the booklet's text, so I cannot comment of any photos or other graphic material included in the accompanying booklet. I trust these will complement the excellent music. 

This is a joy and soulfulness of all of the performances here (not simply the ones I have highlighted) on this celebration of 50 years of what is truly a cornerstone of American culture, not simply music. 

I was provided an advance copy to review from Legacy Media Relations. It is scheduled to be in stores today, which is when this review is posted. Here are the Preservation hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band from the David Letterman Show.

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