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Published: 2012/01/09
by Justin Sachs

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Celebrates 50th Anniversary at Carnegie Hall

[Photos by Dino Perrucci]

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrated their 50th anniversary at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. The night began with a solo piano take on “Basin St Blues” by the great George Wein (who started the Newport Jazz Fest, New Orleans Jazz Fest among others) who was later joined by Tom Sancton on clarinet. Following the opener, Ben Jaffe—the son of Preservation Hall Jazz Band founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe as well as the band’s tuba player and current creative director— officially kicked off the night by talking about how Hurricane Katrina led the band to New York for the “From The Big Apple To The Big Easy” benefit concert, which also featured Lenny Kravitz, Elton John and Jimmy Buffett. He followed up by mentioning the time when the band met photographer Danny Clinch and was introduced to his “circle of musicians,” an event that, in his opinion, jumpstarted the next 15 years of the band’s career. Shortly after, Ben moved back with the rest of the band to perform a rousing take on the classic brass number “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

The rest of the show featured a slew of collaborations from both friends of the band and artists featured on Preservation Hall’s benefit CD Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program. Tiffany Lamson and her band GIVERS came out for “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” followed shortly by The Office/Hangover star Ed Helms, who went to college at Oberlin with Jaffe. Helms performed a short comedy set before introducing the next round of collaborators, The Del McCoury Band. Helms joined in on banjo for the second collaboration, which had a bluegrass meets New Orleans feel. After that performance, Sandra Jaffe came out to thank the crowd before announcing setbreak.

The second set began with the Mardi Gras traditional “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing,” followed shortly by Merrill Garbus of rising indie band tUnE-yArDs, who came out for “Careless Love.” After Garbus and the band’s performance, Allen Toussaint came out on piano for his tribute to the band that puts “pride in your stride.” Trombone Shorty and the artist formerly known as Mos Def (Yasiin Bay) came out soon afterwards for one of the most hyped collaborations of the night.

My Morning Jacket singer Jim James—who was featured on the Preservation benefit album as Yim Yames—came out to perform “St. James Infirmary.” James was joined by the dancers from the Trey McIntyre Project, who danced in the background in “Dia de los muertos-esque” skeleton costumes as the song picked up tempo. The rest of MMJ then came out for a few songs, first with the entire Preservation Hall Jazz Band and later by themselves when they moved to the front of the stage to perform their original “Wonderful (The Way I Feel,)” featuring Tom “Two-Tone Tommy” Blankenship on stand-up bass. This was the only portion of the night that a band played without a member of the host band on stage. Producer King Britt then joined the two groups for a cover of Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time.” After MMJ left the stage, Tao Seeger—Pete Seeger’s grandson—emerged, where he talked about the Spanish influence on New Orleans music and performed a mariachi-tinged number.

The show concluded with the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away,” which was performed by all the night’s performers, including The Blind Boys of Alabama, Del McCoury, and Preservation Hall’s saxophonist Clint Maedgen on vocals. After the guests left the stage, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band returned for an encore performance of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” this time passing the baton to the Preservation Hall Junior Jazz Band.

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