The Preservation Hall Jazz Band rejuvenates decades of New Orleans tradition | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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The Preservation Hall Jazz Band rejuvenates decades of New Orleans tradition

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The word “preservation” implies something kept under glass, unable to breathe if not simply dead—but the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band swing so hard that “rejuvenation” would be a better way to describe their sound. Named for the Preservation Hall in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the PHJB assembled its original lineup in the early 1960s from older jazz musicians such as Sweet Emma Barrett (for whom Cannonball Adderley named his song “Sweet Emma”), George Lewis, De De and Billie Pierce, and Willie and Percy Humphrey. Except for a brief stretch after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the band has been a constant presence for nearly six decades, with new generations of members keeping the groove of their predecessors going strong. Currently led by bassist Ben Jaffe, the PHJB has developed a remarkably subtle take on traditional New Orleans jazz. You can feel the bayou sound, but it’s not exaggerated or cliched like a backing track in a Popeye’s Chicken commercial—and when trombonist Ronnell Johnson puts a plunger up to his bell, his tone gets nasty in the best of ways. The PHJB isn’t simply replicating the music of times gone by, but neither does it use modern effects that will sound dated a week from now. Its most recent album, So It Is (Legacy), coproduced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, incorporates Afro-Cuban influences and emphasizes the roots those sounds share with New Orleans jazz. So it is; so it was; so it ever will be.   v

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