If their recent show in Coral Gables, Florida, was any indication, and you love jazz, you need to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band live.
You might dismiss it, as I once did, foolishly, as just a repertory band, a sort of charming, rolling live museum act evoking what might-have-been. And there might be some of that. But with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band you also get the joy of jazz, smart, angst-free jazz, played with great professionalism but also with pleasure and a sense of humor (watching sousaphone player Ronell Johnson march in place, bob, weave and turn all the way through the performance was part of my enjoyment that night).
The music was soulful and swung forcefully yet with a casual grace of a conversation among old friends, counterlines seem to grow along, curling like vines around the main melody. It was both sturdy and lithe, complex yet appealing. The ensemble played what it must, but the audience clearly felt invited in. I suspect jazz gained a few more believers that night. Having fun is an undervalued concept in jazz — and the music has paid dearly for it. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band taught a master class in jazz disguised as a good-time show. That’s an art in itself — and jazz has had some great practitioners. (Dizzy is a prime example of the genius disguised as entertainer).
Obviously, not every style in jazz lends itself easily to this approach. But by definition, jazz will always live in that netherworld between art music and entertainment. It’s both a weakness and a source of strength. And to have a place in the cultural marketplace, jazz needs to connect with audiences, be it in the composition, the playing or the presentation.
It played out vividly before me at that show by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, an ensemble created 50 years ago precisely to evoke the very roots of jazz — in substance and form.
No, the challenge is not new, but the urgency is — or we can look at classical music and see the future of jazz.
June 2012, The International Review of Music / Jazz With an Accent
(photo credit Shannon Brinkman)