Review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band brings Charleston to dance at Cistern Yard


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Horns announced the opening of the 45th annual Spoleto USA festival as the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed sold out Friday under the Spanish Moss at Cistern Yard.

The concert marked the first in-person performance of the seven-piece group in 14 months and simultaneously evoked a sense of reunion, celebration, homecoming and a memorial to the long walk through time. devastating.

Led by Ben Jaffe on bass and tuba, the group represents New Orleans’ rich jazz history not only with their music, but also through their collective lineage. Ben is the son of Allan Jaffe, who founded the group in 1961, and many other members –– Charlie Gabriel, Walter Harris, Ronell Johnson, Branden Lewis, Clint Maedgen and Kyle Roussel –– come from long lines of musicians. of Crescent City. .

This sense of community and history was in full display as the band happily delivered their nearly 90-minute set to the columns of Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston. Each member of the group was a virtuoso: the trumpet, trombone and saxophone exchanged melodic lines and intertwined atop acrobatic and sparkling keys while the rhythm section –– two drum kits and Jaffe’s bass –– a provided the backbone beat that resonated through the ground.

During the opening number, the band went head-first into the music as the socially distant crowd settled down under the oak trees –– singing the line “Come with me to town”, it sounded like both to an invitation to celebrate and a proclamation that better times were just around the corner. And on songs like the searing “Corrina Corrina,” the band’s infectious swing weaved its way through the air to the feet of the audience, as the couples jumped from their chairs and danced in the early-stage breeze. ‘summer.

But jazz is music that seeks to embody the full gamut of human experience – from triumphant to tragic – and the group has managed to find rhythms of dark respite throughout the night. When introducing the group with his 8-year-old daughter, Jaffe said the only thing that got him through the pandemic was the very music he shared with audiences. Kyle Roussel marked the monologue with a wistful line, and Jaffe exchanged hugs and smiles with his bandmates. It was like witnessing a deeply personal moment between old friends, just like listening to the closing number, a funeral march sung by special guest drummer Shannon Powell who said, “Victory is mine, victory is. to me, I told Satan to support you, today the victory is mine.

Even in the quietest moments, the band never slipped into anything that sounded like a funeral song. The history of jazz includes suffering and pain –– it’s written in its DNA –– but more often than not, music represents the spirit of hope and perseverance necessary to get through difficult times. And the group itself has witnessed a tragedy: their city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina just 15 years ago, and the pandemic put an end to their livelihoods. But the feeling of provocative joy that emanated from their performances makes it clear that their philosophy is one of gracious resilience.

And that’s what makes the Preservation Hall Jazz Band such a powerful institution. Between the casual athleticism of these musicians –– lashing out through complex music, exchanging solos across the board, tearing soulful jazz vocals –– they warmly invite the audience to camaraderie, a shared reverence that connects the craftsman and fan. And when Jaffe said, “People ask me ‘Hey, how are you?’ and I say, “You know what, I’m fine, because I’ve had this in my life and it gives me something worth living”, I think everyone at that point felt the same.

Matthew Nerber is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.

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Henry R. Wright