Words By: Andrew Bruss
Preservation Hall Jazz Band :: 11.19.13 :: The Sinclair :: Cambridge, MA
Preservation Hall Jazz
Band must really confuse the CEO’s of major record labels. Interscope’s failed $25m
marketing campaign behind Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP is reportedly going to result in
holiday layoffs, but while corporate overlords wonder where their focus groups steered
them wrong, Preservation Hall Jazz Band excited the right demographics at The Sinclair in
Cambridge, MA with nothing but quality musical chops and old school showmanship.
The members of PHJB span generations. Charlie Gabriel (clarinet, tenor sax and vocals),
came off as the patriarch of the band. Of all the vocalists, he got the most time in front
of the microphone, and clocking in at 71 years young, he’s also the oldest member of the
Ben Jaffe (tuba and backup vocals) is young enough to be Gabriel’s son but his actually
parents, Sandra and Allan, first opened Preservation Hall in the French Quarter back in
the early '60s. Membership of the group has changed a great deal over the years, but more
than any one member, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is about the traditions of the
culture and the music.
“Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing,” got every ass in the house shaking from the get-go with
the help of their smorgasbord of horns and some uniquely bayou-bred drumbeats.
The highlight of the set was “St. James Infirmary,” an old jazz staple that’s been covered
by acts ranging from NOLA-greats like Dr. John and Louie Armstrong to the likes of Eric
Clapton and The White Stripes. The down-tempo number tells the tale of an old booze hound
who shows up at a bar to describe the scene at St. James Infirmary, where he found the
love of his life, dead, laid out on a cold slab in the morgue. Loss and death are themes
the city of New Orleans knows all too well and when PHJB performed the tune at The
Sinclair, it felt like they brought both the pain and perseverance of their city with them
to the New England College town.
The name Preservation Hall is synonymous with a sound that’s right out of the prohibition
era. There’s nothing cutting edge about the show PHJB put on at The Sinclair. The black
suits could have been handed down from founding members and the most technologically
advanced part of their show were the microphones attached to the horns. But their sound,
more at home in a 1930’s speakeasy than a 21st century rock club, transcends generations
and can be enjoyed by anybody with a pulse. In an era where the supposed “brightest minds
in the biz” are trying to find ways to reinvent the industry in order to save it, they
should all be taking note from PHJB. When a formula works, it doesn’t need changing, and
if something is of quality, people will pay for it. Instead of trying to figure out what
the next big thing is, Preservation Hall Jazz Band demonstrates that sometimes success can
be found by looking back towards your roots.
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