see also "Preservation Hall Jazz Band"
"Preservation Hall is a must-see. It’s one room on St. Peter Street, and it’s traditional jazz as hard-core as it gets."
from "Harry Connick, Jr.'s New Orleans," an interview by Mark Seal.
Preservation Hall, a New Orleans jazz landmark, is a run-down little building in the French Quarter located on St. Peters between Bourbon and Royal. Walk by in the daylight, and it looks like nothing more than a vacant storefront. It does not look much different from the inside, either. You enter from the street into a sort of deadend hallway. Along the right wall there is a rack with CDs and memorabilia for sale, a long wooden bench, and several old posters advertising the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at various venues over the years. To the left are two doorless doorways (one at the front and one toward the rear) leading up a step into the main room. At the end of the hall on the left is another door, this one closed, presumably opening into some sort of office-type space. There is no bathroom for the patrons, and no bar. The main room is spartan. At the front is a window looking out onto the street. There are a few chairs for the musicians, a tip bucket, a set of drums, and an old upright piano. A few short steps away are three rows of rough wooden benches. Other than a few wooden supports, the rest of the room is empty. The paint is faded and the plaster is cracked, completely missing in places. Patches of tin covering the occaional hole are perfectly formed to the wood floor by generations of feet. At the back of the room are two door-size openings: one empty and leading back into the dark, the other a blocked-up door one step above the floor. Not only does it look deserted, it looks condemned.
But when night falls . . . !
If you want a good seat (or a seat of any description), you had better be in line half an hour before the Hall opens at 8:00 PM. There are five approximately half-hour sets, and if you are late, the best time to get in is just at the end of a set. After the doorman takes your money, he will point you back to the rear entry of the main room. You will step up into the darkness -- the only light is over the band in front -- and realize that all you can see are the backs and heads of the people in front of you. If it is unoccupied (and you are skinny enough), you can perch on the step in front of the blocked door and catch an occasional glimpse of the band. In some ways, it is better here in back: you can close your eyes and let the music carry you without being distracted by the swaying and jerking of the enraptured musicians.
After a set is over, the band heads to the back room and the crowd thins as those tired of standing or of the heat -- there is no air conditioning -- give up and leave. You can now move up to a better vantage if you wish. If you last through enough sets, you may manage to get a spot on one of the benches or even on one of the thin cushions on the floor directly in front of the musicians (although sitting too close to the trombone player is not recommended).
The Hall was built as a residence in 1750, and served as a tavern during the War of 1812. Its association with jazz began in 1952, when it was an art gallery and the owner invited musicians over to rehearse. In 1961 the art gallery moved next door and Allan and Sandra Jaffe bought the Hall. Sanda still operates it today. The price of admission as of this writing is US$5, and it is open nightly 8:00 to midnight. You can catch a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band almost any night, but it is never the same band two nights in a row. Individual musicians that meet Sandra Jaffe's approval will sit in with the band occasionally, and visiting bands may play a set or two at the Hall.
you will hear at the Hall is traditional New Orleans jazz, slightly slower than other jazz forms (like Dixieland) and more true to the underlying melody. The most famous example of New Orleans jazz is "When the Saints Go Marching In
," and its most famous practitioner is undoubtedly Louis Armstong
, double bass
are the usual suspect
s. The style is characterized by the musicians starting together, taking turns with extemporize
s, and then bringing it back together to end. It is both passionate
ly demanding, but the musicians at Preservation Hall are master
s of the style -- as they should be, since some of the oldsters that hobble in to play every week helped develop it.