Land of Dreams

We don't care if the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are old. They're still cool.

Traditional jazz, the signature sound of the New Orleans street parade, church service, and stage, isn't "now." It isn't "hot" or "sexy." We figure there are plenty of record company executives who want you to think that because teenagers do not flock to trad-jazz concerts, the music isn't popular. They're wrong.

It reminds us of a small uproar a few years back regarding the Latin Grammys. Apparently, the most popular kind of music among Latinos in the United States was, and is, an accordion-laced oom-pah-pah polka called norteño, which was roundly ignored at the ritzy awards show. Seems it didn't fit someone's idea of "hot" and "sexy." Yet norteño soldiers on, as it has since the 1950s, still good to dance to, still giving listeners a pretty fine feeling.

Same goes for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: The group's not on the cover of too many glossy magazines -- some of its members are old, for crying out loud. But the fact remains that independent-minded music lovers of many stripes adore the act's trombone, clarinet, even its banjo. Made up largely of men steeped since birth in the sounds of brass bands, jazz funerals, and Sidney Bechet records, the group is unreasonably popular. It's been that way since 1961, when Preservation Hall, in New Orleans' French Quarter, was established as a permanent venue for old-fashioned jazz played live and delivered straight to the brain. The hall remains packed nearly every night with patrons eager to hear the trumpet-led sounds of Louisiana's finest players, among them Joseph Lastie Jr., John Brunious, and Frank Demond.

Let the Preservation Hall Jazz Band roll.
Let the Preservation Hall Jazz Band roll.

This is not to say that the old and the new are completely separate. PHJB banjo player Carl LeBlanc makes the point on the group's Web site that good music is good music, and that to understand and play traditional music is "to understand how all this other music came about."

 
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