Trying To Get To You

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Perfect Hour In Preservation Hall

Earlier this month, I was in New Orleans, and while there, I went to Preservation Hall to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was an experience I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.

Preservation Hall itself, located in the French Quarter, is the rawest, funkiest space I’ve ever been in. The building that houses the venue is over two centuries old, and judging from the looks of the interior and exterior, very little, if any work has been done to it.

I walked in, and took a place in the back of the tiny room. There were about 30 seats inside, and the rest was standing room only, taking in probably another 75. The room was dimly lit, in a warm amber hue that only enhanced the feeling of being out of time. Some large and gothic paintings of musicians hung from the walls. There was no bar and the packed crowd, mainly tourists, milled about in an expectant air.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band formed in 1963, and its membership is a floating one. Countless jazz musicians have played under its name. Its original members could lay claim to playing with Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden. For twenty-five years, they’ve toured around the world as ambassadors of New Orleans Jazz – the essence and root of the music itself.

When the band came on (six-pieces on that night: trumpet, clarinet, sax, piano, bass and drums) and plowed into the first song, “His Eye On The Sparrow,” I experienced as pure a feeling of joy as I’ve ever experienced in music. I felt like I was in the same room that jazz was born in, and even though I knew intellectually that it wasn’t true, I experienced it as such.

The music was immensely celebratory, defiantly so, for in each note of the music was the blues, and with it, an acknowledgment of the travails and disappointments of life. The crowd grinned, danced and sang. And they listened. They really listened. The applause that followed each solo was in direct proportion to the skill with which the solo was played. I’m used to the New York music business style listening, which usually consists of, “Is this happening? Is this cool? Will other people like this?” This listening was something entirely different, much purer, a communion with the essence of one of music’s main functions; the celebration of being alive.

The sixty-minute show passed blissfully, the crowd hollering the verses and choruses of “Shake That Thing” with love and reverence. My own personal history of music flashed before my eyes, and the world of ephemera disappeared; for a little while, I felt enveloped in the real thing, and the real thing only. It was cleansing. It was perfect. My girl and I walked out of the hall after the 60 minute set, grinned at each other, and barely said a word, except to ask each other where we should eat.

Download: "His Eye Is On The Sparrow"
Download: "Shake That Thing"


Anonymous said...

Very nice piece of writing, Ben. Whre did you go to eat?

Ben Lazar said...

We went to the Oyster Bar, somewhere in the Quarter. Great oysters.