From Preservation Hall to the Dakota:
The Saints Are Marchin’ in High Fashion
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor, Jazz Police
Friday, 23 July 2010
They don’t call it “Preservation Hall” for nothing. The first time I set foot in what might be the world’s tiniest commercial jazz venue in 1981, I recall my wonder that five or six musicians could make such vibrant music night after night for an audience crammed wall to wall. Back then, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was comprised of a handful of septu- and octogenarians, meaning they could have been cohorts of Louis Armstrong in his early days. Now the popularity of the PHJB extends far beyond the early 19th century building on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, and there are perhaps more than a dozen jazz musicians who rotate playing in the hall or on tour. One of those tours brought the band to the Dakota Jazz Club, a much larger venue than their home base, and a much smaller venue than their usual tour stop. In the Twin Cities, PHJB has appeared at the old Guthrie Theater (where they recorded their first commercial album) and at Orchestra Hall, but this week was their first club gig here. And it was an ideal way to enjoy the band and their deep reverence for the birthplace of jazz—comfortably intimate.
The contrast to Preservation Hall was rather extreme—the Dakota stage is larger than the entire Hall; Dakota patrons sit at tables and order food and drink, while in the Hall, mostly tourists line against the walls or sit on the floor with no amenities beyond the music and the smell of history. But regardless of context, this was purely New Orleans music, and most of the tunes (including “Whenever You’re Lonesome,” “Tiger Rag,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and of course “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In”) have been in the PJHB repertoire since the band first formed in the early 60s. The musicians themselves spread across more generations than the original band, with bassist/tuba player/director Ben Jaffe apparently the youngest (in his late 30s). The son of the Hall’s founders, Jaffe grew up literally on the knee of the PHJB members, and joked that one of his former students is none other than trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, now artistic director for jazz at Orchestra Hall and in the audience for Tuesday night’s final set. Well, he was not in the audience for long, coming on stage to join the band and duke it out with the other horns...