De De Pierce - cornet, vocals; Billie Pierce - piano, vocals; Narvin Kimball - banjo, vocals; Big Jim Robinson - trombone; Alan Jaffe - tuba; Percy Humphrey - trumpet; Willie Humphrey - clarinet; Albert System - clarinet; Josiah "Cie" Frazier - drums
Founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the now legendary Preservation Hall was originally an art gallery, run by Larry Bornstein in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter. Bornstein began holding informal jam sessions for his friends, out of which grew the concept of Preservation Hall. The small, intimate venue served no drinks, had no air conditioning, but it welcomed people of all ages who were interested in nurturing and preserving the traditions of the early 20th century jazz pioneers. With a deep reverence and respect, both musicians and audiences alike came to Preservation Hall seeking to preserve the music that evolved in New Orleans around the turn of the century and to bring it to contemporary audiences in its purest form. Various permutations of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began touring in the early 1960s, featuring many musicians who had actually performed alongside original pioneers like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, and Bunk Johnson, passing on the traditions of these pioneering musicians and this great American music form to the younger generations.
This recording was captured in 1972 at an outdoor setting in Lenox, MA, 11 years after the orchestra was established and five years after they started doing road tours. When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opened this bill for songwriter Randy Newman (also available here in the Concert Vault), they featured the now-legendary husband and wife team of Billie and De De Pierce. Married in 1935, Billie Pierce was a talented barrelhouse pianist and blues vocalist, while her husband, De De Pierce played cornet, as well as being a passionate singer himself. De De had gone blind in the 1950s and retired during that decade, but by the early 1960s they were both back in action and can be thoroughly enjoyed here, as they were fronting the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on this tour. Banjoist/singer Narvin Kimball, who also performs on this recording, was the last living original member when he died at age 97 in 2006, after being safely evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Performing with an illustrious list of musicians, including Preservation Hall founder Allan Jaffe himself on tuba, the group bring the classic Dixieland traditions to the stage of the Music Inn. The set is remarkably diverse, celebrating blues, hymns, rags, as well as popular jazz songs of an earlier era, all faithful to the sounds of the original practitioners.
Several other instrumentals that allow these musicians to explore the groundbreaking sounds of this historical era are also included, with "Panama Rag" and the undeniably infectious "Billie's Boogie" being the most accessible to new listeners
The group also does a remake of "Hello Dolly," the Broadway song that went to #1 in 1965 by trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and is largely credited with reviving the traditional jazz of 1920s New Orleans. Most music historians and fans recognize the Preservation Hall Jazz Band as not just a musical group, but also a cultural phenomenon. The band was acclaimed for its wide range of musical styles that were able to be adapted into the New Orleans groove, among them Dixieland, Southern spirituals, and vintage pop songs from a bygone era.
This performance is part of a well-celebrated US tour, and featured spirited performances by barrelhouse pianist and singer, Billie Pierce, who, with her blind husband De De Pierce, remained on the jazz scene for over 60 years. A prime example of Pierce's high energy piano work, "Billie's Bounce" kicks off this set in fine style. Two more spirited instrumentals follow, with "Eh Las Bas" and "Panama Rag," allowing these musicians to explore the groundbreaking sounds of the early 20th century jazz pioneers. A nearly 10-minute exploration of the classic "St. Louis Blues" does more of the same, featuring superb instrumental work during the first half before Billie Pierce takes her first bluesy vocal of the evening. Several others provide supporting vocals, while Pierce leads on "Little Liza Jane," a wonderful example of music rooted deeply in New Orleans tradition.
Following an almost dirgy take on "Mood Indigo" and a technically impressive "Hindustan," the Humphrey brothers, Willie (clarinet) and Percy (trumpet), along with De De Pierce (cornet) and group leader, Allan Jaffe (tuba) play gloriously on such standards as "Bourbon Street Parade," "Hello Dolly," and the freewheeling classic, "Ice Cream" ("I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream… rah rah rah"). They close the set with the soulful and bluesy, "St. James Infirmary," a standard for orchestras during the rag time era.
Some of this material was certainly familiar to all at the time, with "Hello Dolly" and this night's expansive take on "St. Louis Blues" being the most obvious examples, but for most of the Lenox audience it was likely their first exposure to many of these songs. It should also be noted that although the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's musicians always remained reverent to the style of the originals, they did not attempt to smooth out this music in order to make it more accessible to a younger audience. These remarkable performances maintain an authentic old Dixieland edge to them, something this audience might not have been consciously aware of at the time, but by their enthusiastic response, inherently appreciated.
The goodwill that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band created for America and around the world was recognized in 2006, when the orchestra received the National Gold Medal of the Arts. The hall itself was closed for a year to recover from Hurricane Katrina, and the group toured during this time trying to raise awareness and funds for struggling New Orleans musicians. Ironically, one of the songs recorded by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 1972 (although not performed during this show) is "Lord I Don't Want to be Buried in the Storm" originally written and released by Sister Gertrude Morgan after the deluge in Louisiana in 1927
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band continues to the present day, as committed as ever to continuing the musical legacy begun in turn of the century New Orleans. While the personnel has changed and even incorporated children of founding members, they have remained true to their original mission. The version of the band heard here, fronted by Billie and De De Pierce, is often regarded as the most authentic of the numerous permutations. This performance is a testament to both the musicians and the Lenox audience, who transcends any generational gap and celebrates a unique, diverse, and joyous musical experience together.