Peanut Butter and Jelly. Yin and Yang. Nuts and Bolts. There are some things in life that just naturally go together. Another is New Orleans and Jazz. Music is everywhere in this city, jazz in particular. It is played on the streets by buskers and musicians are hired to perform at brunches in many restaurants. But I was on the hunt for a real venue, a place where I could if not learn about the tradition at least feel the tradition. I wanted a combination of talent and atmosphere. And I found the perfect place at the Preservation Hall, located in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
What is the Preservation Hall?
It’s actually many things – a venue that promotes jazz music, a non-profit organization, and a touring band. Preservation Hall was established in 1961 and today has become a premiere venue for some pretty fantastic music. The Hall gives three 45-minute sets almost every day of the year, showcasing over a hundred local jazz musicians.
What makes the Preservation Hall’s musicians so great?
They’re all considered “masters” of traditional jazz. And apparently, many of them are related to the original players – I guess some talents are passed through the blood! And jazz is in their blood. When I was there, the utter love of music seeped from each of the six musicians on the floor. It was beautifully infectious!
What was it like, going to the Preservation Hall?
When I strolled up to the entrance, fifteen minutes before the show started, I had to pass a long line of people. Being someone who hates waiting in line for any reason (I once missed a chance to meet N’Sync because of this), I had paid in advance for a seat inside. It was a “Big Shot” ticket – I felt so important! Those who choose to wait in line do pay less to get in but they have to line up at least an hour in advance to even have a hope at getting a spot inside. The venue only holds about 100 people. The other benefit of paying in advance is getting a spot on a bench – everyone else gets either a cushion on the floor in the front or a spot in the standing room at the back.
When I first entered the room, I instantly smiled. It was so atmospheric! There was a cultivated air of history that makes you feel like you’re in for a special treat. Of course, when everyone was crammed into the room, it also felt like a fire hazard. But still atmospheric!
I was lucky – I got a seat at the end of a bench and no one had bought the spot right next to me nor the two spots directly in front of me! It was perfect especially since that room got stuffy and hot very quickly. Paper fans were handed out but that barely kept me cool. I could not imagine having to stand at the back in the crowd. There are just some things I’m willing to pay for and a seat on a bench was one of them.
What is the Preservation Hall’s music like?
The sets are about 45 minutes long and the musicians of the evening play three sets – 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm. The night I went, the band was the All Stars. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed once they arrived on set – understandable, though. They want you to enjoy the music and participate. Also, I’m sure they themselves thrive on the audience’s energy in return.
The band was made up of a Grammy Award winner drummer, a Grammy Award winner trombonist, a saxophone and clarinet player, a pianist, a cellist, and a trumpeter. They were all brilliant, and all had their moment to shine during the set. At one point, the trumpeter sang a song about Jack and Jill going up the hill and how Jill came back down with a 50 dollar bill…. Then the trombonist led the audience in a rendition of the happiest This Little Light of Mine I’ve ever heard and participated in. It was a blast.
Is it worth going to the Preservation Hall?
100% yes. It is a great introduction to traditional jazz to those who don’t know it. It is also a great experience for those who already know the genre. They put on a short show but the sheer talent that is on the floor makes up for the relative brevity. A definite case of quality vs quantity. The amazing music, the historic atmosphere, and the congenial audience pretty much guarantees an hour that you will remember for a very long time.