Art dealer’s love of jazz inspires creation of Preservation Hall

Perhaps no single entity has helped keep New Orleans jazz alive into the 21st Century more than Preservation Hall and the band its spawned.

Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz alive
Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz vibrant

Like many great ideas, Preservation Hall started out as a simple solution to an understandable need. In 1952, Larry Borenstein opened an art gallery in an 18-century building that to this day seems to have not changed over the years. It’s location, just off Bourbon Street (726 St. Peter) and its nightclubs, meant staying open late preventing Borenstein from pursuing his other passion: listening to jazz. So he took matters into his own hands.

Borenstein hauled an old piano into his gallery, bought some beer and invited musicians to play for him and his guests and gallery customers. To avoid conflict with the musician union, the sessions were called rehearsals.

In an article written by Borenstein in the 60’s, he related how the session grew organically.

“The concerts took place regularly.  Punch Miller, back from his long years on the road, brought a band to the Gallery Tuesday nights.  Kid Thomas had a “rehearsal” every Thursday night.  Sundays Noon Johnson often stopped by with his trio.

Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.
Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.

“Piano “professors” Stormy Weatherly (sic – Kid Stormy Weather), John Smith (I’m guessing this John Smith) and Isadore (sic – Isidore “Tuts”) Washington often dropped in as did busking guitarists, banjoists and harmonica virtuosos.  Often impromptu sessions got underway just because Lemon Nash dropped in to say “hello” and just happened to have his ukelele with him.”

The informal venue allowed whites and African Americans to mingle at a time when the South still practiced, and enforced, apartheid. Police occasionally raided the jam sessions and hauled the musicians to jail.

“The bands frequently included white and Negro musicians and it was simpler to charge them with ‘disturbing the peace’ than with breaking down segregation barriers.”

The music experience continued to grow though. Eventually, Borenstein moved his gallery next door and in 1961 the venue was officially christened Preservation Hall–an appropriate name for a jazz lover sanctuary.

A couple years later, the Hall’s managers,  Allen and Sandra Jaffe, organized a road tour for Preservation Hall regulars. The success of the the band’s concerts provided additional income for the musicians and helped maintain fan support outside of New Orleans. The band, in various iterations over the last 50 years, has continued to tour, perform and record, building a worldwide audience.

Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.
Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.

The Jaffe’s son, Ben took over leadership of the venue and band. A tuba player like his dad, Ben Jaffe has widened the band’s horizons through collaborations with other artists such as Blind Boys of Alabama, the Del McCoury Band, Keb’ Mo’, Dr. John and Tao Seeger. The band’s latest album, “That’s It,” features all original compositions.

Over 50 years after its forming, Preservation Hall entertains locals and tourists alike from it St. Peters Street location with three 45-minute shows every night. The band is drawn from a collective of musicians, many of whom are descendants of early New Orleans jazz musicians.

You can purchase tickets in advance that ensure a front or second row seat or you can pay $15 for general admission. The performances are acoustic and the venue is small. You might need to stand in line for a while but it will be worth the wait.

Tune in to my next show (listed to a recorded edited version) and you will hear what I’m talking about.

Tuba players key to NOLA music and the next Gumbo YaYa

I doubt the Census Bureau can tell us where we might find the highest concentration of tuba players, but if it could, I’d guess that New Orleans would be near the top.

Just think of all those Second Lines with sousaphone players blasting the beat out over the heads of dancers.

David Moseley, sousaphonist for Olympia's Artesian Rumble Arkestra and KAOS Deejay, will host Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa Monday.
David Moseley, sousaphonist for Olympia’s Artesian Rumble Arkestra and KAOS Deejay, will host Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa Monday.

A quick trivia detour: The sousaphone is the wrap around version of the tuba, making it easier to carry and project sound forward. From what I’ve read, the sousaphone, named after military-band extraordinaire John Philip Sousa was a modified version of  a tuba-like instrument, called a helicon, designed to be played while riding a horse. Tally Ho!

The sousaphone/tuba is on my mind today because the next Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa will be guest hosted by David Moseley. In addition to being the host of KAOS’s world music show Xenophilia, David is the sousaphone player for Olympia’s own Artesian Rumble Arkestra.

In honor of David filling in for me while I screw off on the beach, here are five notable tuba/sousaphone players from New Orleans.

Anthony
Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen is revered in New Orleans.

Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen –  Mr. Lacen was part of Danny Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church band and became a bandleader and mentor to many. Famous for playing the streets, he also toured the world.  Over a decade after his passing in 2004, Tuba Fats is still fondly remembered in New Orleans with a special day of recognition (Tuba Fats Tuesday after JazzFest) and a square named in his honor in the Treme.

Kirk Joseph – Another alumnus of Barker’s band of youthful brass players, Mr. Joseph was one of the founders of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band which reinvigorated the New Orleans brass band sound.  He continues to play today mixing tradition with the contemporary and maintaining his credentials as the hip godfather of brass music.

Phil Frazier, founding member and anchor of Rebirth Brass Band.
Phil Frazier, founding member and anchor of Rebirth Brass Band.

Phil Frazier – Founding member of my favorite brass band, Mr. Frazier, along with his brother Keith, have been keeping the beat for Rebirth Brass Band since 1983. Influenced by the two previously mentioned tuba players, Phil has charted his own territory with Rebirth, laying down funky bass lines for the band that scored a grammy in 2012 with its album “Rebirth of New Orleans.”

Ben Jaffe – As the Creative Director of Preservation Hall, Mr. Jaffe perhaps isn’t always thought of as a tuba player. But that’s what he often plays for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. While his blood directly links him to the small French Quarter venue his parents started in the 1961, his talent has kept this venerable institution and its band from being a museum piece. Ben co-produced the 2013 album “That’s It!” which was the band’s first release to feature completely original music, including Jaffe’s tuba-booming title track.

Matt Perrine – It’s hard to avoid Mr. Perrine if you watch any number of New Orleans acts such as Bonerama and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. But to catch his latest work, check out “Linger Til Dawn” featuring awesome vocals by his wife Debbie Davis and some tasty interpretations of classics like “Sunny Afternoon” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

Toussaint infused New Orleans sound into pop music

New Orleans
Allen Toussaint plays the National Anthem at the Superdome. Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The French Quarter Festival, which showcases local music, could not have scored a better opening headliner this year than with the hometown artist whose creativity has nurtured the New Orleans sound for over a half century. (Listen to the show that complements this post.)

Allen Toussaint was a teenager when he first sat in on Earl King’s band and regularly scored gigs at the legendary Dew Drop Inn.

It wasn’t long before he found his way to the center of the known Rock n’ Roll universe at the time, Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where he laid down piano tracks on recordings by Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Aaron Neville. But it was when he joined Minit Records that his creativity became apparent to the world. Using his parent’s living room as rehearsal space and testing ground for new material, he assembled a parade of hit singles by Jessie Hill, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey and this blog’s patron saint, Ernie K-Doe.

Ernie K-Doe best recordings were aided by the songwriting, arranging and producing of Allen Toussaint.

As a keyboard savant, Toussaint could accurately reproduce and synthesize the city’s revered legacy of piano professors, especially the style of Professor Longhair. But as a songwriter and arranger, he was able to weave the full panoply of New Orleans rhythms, vocal traditions and spirit into a clean appealing style for the pop market. In fact, he, along with K-Doe, were responsible for the sole number 1 pop chart hit recorded in New Orleans,  “Mother-in-Law.” (A song written before Toussaint was married and had one.)

Later, he started his own record labels providing a platform for local and national musicians to access the New Orleans sound. With The Meters as his studio house band, Toussaint was a key force behind the New Orleans funk sound that developed in the 70’s. A prolific songwriter, his music has been performed by The Rolling Stones (“Ruler of My Heart”), The Who (“Fortune Teller”), Bonnie Raitt (“What Do You Want the Boy To Do”), Devo (“Working in the Coal Mine”),  Al Hirt (“Java”), The Doors (“Get Out of My Life Woman”),  Jerry Garcia (“I’ll Take a Melody”), Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”), Robert Palmer (“Sneaky Sally through the Alley”), The Pointer Sisters (“Yes, We Can Can”) and many more.

Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.
Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.

In 1973, Toussaint had a big hand in producing and performing on Dr. John’s album “In The Right Place.” Two years later, Linda and Paul McCartney moved their entourage to New Orleans to collaborate with Toussaint in his New Orleans studio on their album “Venus and Mars.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. If there’s any question of whether being a senior statesman of New Orleans music has diminished his chops, you need only look as far as his grammy-nominated, post-Katrina collaboration with Elvis Costello, “The River in Reverse,” for evidence that at 77, he still has it.

In addition to being a producer, bandleader, arranger and songwriter, Toussaint is an accomplished pianist and stands with the great New Orleans piano “professors.” Toussaint will take the stage at the French Quarter Festival on April 9 at 3:45 p.m. but you will be able to catch his music on my next show this Monday. (Here’s the recorded show)

Five things to know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest

I originally posted this in 2015 but have updated it so the links are still good and the information is relatively ageless.

It’s never too late to make plans for Jazz Fest.  If you accept this mission, you will join the millions of satisfied music lovers worldwide who have made this pilgrimage during the 45+ year history of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The 1975 New Orleans Jazz Festival Poster

To help you move from idle curiosity into action, here are a handful of things you should know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest. (Also, here’s a later post as to why you might consider visiting New Orleans when it is not JazzFest.)

1. It’s more than Jazz. The festival combines world-class and national acts with some of the best regional music of all types.  There are stages for blues, gospel, zydeco and cajun, world, kids stuff and, of course jazz. On the rest of the stages you’ll see funk, hip hop, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, folk, latin, pop, brass bands, oh heck,  . . look at the  lineup. Not to mention, you’ll have access to Second Line parade demonstrations, excellent food and local crafts.

2. Last weekend in April and first weekend in May. That’s always the formula. This year’s festival starts Friday, April 22 and runs through Sunday May 1, with three-days to recuperate in the middle (no festival shows Monday – Wednesday). Go for the day or the whole fest.

New Orleans Fair Grounds is 145-acres. During Jazz Fest, 12 stages operate.

3. Tickets are easy to get at the gate. You can procrastinate and/or be spontaneous. They will have a ticket waiting for you. It’s highly unlikely the festival will sell out. It takes a lot of bodies to fill the Fair Grounds Race Course. Day passes are $75 and sold with efficiency at the entry points. You can buy in at advance if you want. But after Ticketmaster takes its pound of flesh, you save less than a price of beer per ticket.  Or you can buy a brass pass and go all seven days.

4. Hotels can be expensive but plentiful; cheaper further out.  It’s over $300 a night to stay downtown/French Quarter. Cheaper further out. If you have a car, Slidell, Metairie or some other suburb is an affordable option. But not as fun as being in close. Since I like embedding in a neighborhood, I use AirBnB. Yes, almost everyone charges more during Jazz Fest.

5. The best shows are not always the “big” shows.  The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage folks always assemble an intriguing top of ticket with big acts such as  Elton John, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and other big touring acts you can see just about anywhere.  I understand if you have to see one of these. However, if you skew your viewing portfolio toward local legends and masters, particularly those who rarely perform together these days, you will reap even bigger dividends.

The founding members of The Meters will perform at 2015 Jazz Fest, from left: George Porter, Jr., Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, , and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste

Each year, the festival attracts New Orleans centric acts that you might otherwise be able to catch. Try to catch acts that form just for this event (such as musical tributes) or come back together again (the Radiators, Meters)

LagniappeAt some point, you must get your ass in the Economy Hall Tent and shake it.  (Second Line Umbrella optional)Nuff said.

There are lots of other resources for the details, starting with Jazz Fest site.  To hear some of the music that you would hear at Jazz Fest, be sure to tune in on Thursdays.   Also, join me on my journey, learning about the New Orleans music scene by subscribing (upper right side of this page)

Vaudeville Etiquette to grace KAOS studio and Gumbo YaYa

Seattle-based Vaudeville Etiquette will perform live in the KAOS studio tomorrow during my radio show.  While a departure from my usual “Music of New Orleans” format, it will be worthwhile. I guarantee it.

Vaudeville Etiquette, a Seattle-based folk-rock band, will enliven KAOS studio on Monday during Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.

I’ve been wanting Vaudeville Etiquetee (VE) to play in Olympia for some time. They offer an energetic performance style and an awesome repertoire that includes songs from last year’s debut album. Debutantes & Dealers has received positive and broad acceptance from American Songwriter to Northwest Music Scene to USA Today.

I stumbled onto VE  about this time last year at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery  in Winthrop. There was standing room only with barely any breathing space between musician and listener. I was immediately struck by the powerful drummer, the slick pedal steel, harmonizing vocals and the aura of frivolity the five musicians projected. This band was having fun and so was everyone else in the pub.

Bradley Laina, guitar, and Sander Vinberg, bass, go through a sound check prior to performing on the Seattle waterfront last summer.
Bradley Laina, guitar, and Sander Vinberg, bass, go through a sound check prior to performing on the Seattle waterfront last summer.

We came late and the band had worked through most of its original music so for the next set, they played what seemed to be the entire Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac. I can only say you had to have been there. It was a hoot. I’ve since caught them twice live in Seattle, confirming  and exceeding my original impression of their talent.

The band is fronted by vocalists and songwriters Bradley Laina and Tayler Lynn who also play the guitar and accordion respectively. Sander Vinberg handles bass, Matt Teske adds pedal steel and mandolin and Bryce Gourley manages the beat.

I’ve heard VE described different ways: folk-rock, alternative country, neo-folk.  My favorite description is by CMJ.com writers who after noticing the frequent play of Debutantes & Dealers on KAOS, highlighted the band on its website with this: “Ragtag, boot-stompin folk and swaying ballads . . Floating harmonies sing romantic tales to the backdrop of country western, gospel and banjo-pluckin’ folk.”  Yea, what they said.

Tomorrow morning, these ragtag boot-stomping good folks will be getting up early, even for non-musicians, to drive from Astoria (where they’re playing tonight) to the KAOS studio in Olympia. I hope to get them on the air by 11 a.m.  I hope you can tune in for them.