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Preservation Hall: The Best of the Early Years

Since they opened the Preservation Hall in New Orleans back in 1961 to preserve a tradition in jazz that was heading toward the endangered species list, it seems so right for founder Sandra Jaffe along with her son Ben to start their own label to preserve everything about the venue, which still operates 365 days a year and sends out touring groups 100 days each year.

What other venue can boast such an astonishing employment record?

The first of the three, the arguably named The Best of the Early Years, includes some tracks that are not so early, some that are mere excerpts and a few that were previously unreleased. All in all, it’s a fascinating mish-mash, with moments that could only be loved by the most diehard devotees of Dixieland. Unquestionably, this is happy music that should be preserved for its historical value, but with few exceptions it’s not meant to be transcribed and studied by future generations of conservatory students. It’s culled from albums recorded between 1964 and 1977 (not exactly what musicologists think of when they research recorded treasures of Dixieland): Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Here Come da Great Olympia Band, Billie and DeDe and Their P.H. Jazz Band plus previously unreleased material by the Humphrey Brothers and Their P.H. Jazz Band.

The Best of the Early Years is everything traditional jazz should be: a front line of trumpet, trombone and clarinet or, in some instances, trumpets and saxophones buoyed by banjo or bass or bass horn; the varieties are infinite. The resulting counterpoint is what creates the infectious swing. And no matter how ragged it is-and, oh, it gets ragged!-the music instinctively swings. A good example is “Down By the Riverside,” where everyone’s singing and no attempt at harmony is being made. At times it sounds like a party at a frat house. Each of Sweet Emma’s piano solos sound as if she is double-parked. She syncopates by constantly pushing forward, jabbing and repeating chords-but bless her soul, she never swings!

There’s much to commend on Shake That Thing. It was recorded only three years ago at Preservation Hall, assuring good sound. There’s also a looser feeling, more humor than on The Best Of, as on “That Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” in which Anthony Lacen does a Fats Waller-style vocal. In the midst of all the innuendoes and ribaldry, like the title tune, there’s a reverent treatment of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” reinforced by Rickie Monie’s gospel-tinged piano.

The Preservation Hall Hot Four (well, warm four at that stage) would have been better off without shouter Harold “Duke” Dejan, the late leader of Da Great Olympia Band. Granted, sentiment and history are involved, but his four vocal efforts spoil an otherwise smooth, acoustic quartet that sparkles whenever trumpeter Wendell Brunious plays.

Originally Published