Fifty years ago, set just off the world famous Bourbon Street, just three blocks from the Mississippi River, there stood an art gallery. Having been built as a French Quarter residence in the 1700s, the location has since served as an inn, tavern and photo studio. In 1961 Allan and Sandra Jaffe took over the art gallery and aimed to create a sanctuary within an increasingly opposing landscape. This sanctuary was not about a deity but it had plenty of faith and the landscape was not hostile in a war-like sense. No, this was a religious sanctuary of Jazz in an increasingly Rock-n-Roll world.
This sanctuary is New Orleans’s own Preservation Hall. It is a warm, welcoming home to jazz, which is the fundamental foundation on which all of today’s music was built. Jazz incorporated a mixture of worldly sounds and became what America is, an original blend of unique ideas which carry more than just a sound. Jazz carries with it an inherent emotional transcendence unlike anything else in this world. It is the animal which cannot be tamed, the voice that cannot be hushed and the spirit that cannot be broken. Come hell or high water, Jazz cannot be destroyed.
When Jazz’s roots began in the early 20th century, the United States was faced with a divided mentality. This unspoken, but obvious, hell was bridged by a common passion; the passion for music. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, Jazz was blind and Jazz was pure. It was the power of love movement, decades before a power of love would sweep the nation. In August of 2005, hell and high water attempted to destroy the birthplace of one of the most significant forms of Jazz, but like it had seen in the hundred years prior, Jazz would not be broken.
What does this all mean to you, to me, to music?
Consider this, without jazz, there may be no blues. Without blues, there may be no rock. That means no Beatles, Rolling Stones, even Metallica and Linkin Park. Yes, without recognizing and appreciating the past, are we truly appreciating where we are? If we had no jazz, Richard Wright would not have crafted the iconic Pink Floyd track “Great Gig In The Sky” and today, bands like Honey & the 45s may not have even a note to start on. From legendary to independent, jazz has touched everywhere on the musical spectrum.
And now, fifty years after the Jaffe’s converted that building on Bourbon Street, we are given, what I consider to be, one of the greatest single pieces of music ever to be collected. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 50th Anniversary Collection is not simply a box set of something someone has done. No. It is of great historical significance and it is a must hear for anyone who claims to be a musician, claims to love music or even claims to love history. Throughout the 57 songs (5 previously unreleased), there is bound to be something you like. I’ve probably listened to “Complicated Life” close to three dozen times. The tracks are infectious and the sound warms your soul.
The 50th Anniversary Collection includes tracks featuring the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger (““We Shall Overcome”), present day musical aficionado Andrew Bird (“Shake It And Break It”), My Morning Jacket front man Yim Yames (“Louisiana Fairytale”), Woodstock alum Richie Havens (“Trouble In Mind”) and even Mr. Tom Waits himself (“Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing”). Their contribution to the whole is not about them, but about bowing to the influence this music has had on their lives, proving once again that jazz is greater than any one person or style.
I cannot stress enough how important, motivating, rewarding and simply captivating this compilation is in my words; you must hear this. If this is not on your list of “must-haves” then you need to re-evaluate your list. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is incredibly talented and, spanning the decades, has kept awe-inspiring consistency with their skills from member to member. It is an all-star lineup, a power house band, a super group and ultimately, the music is the headliner, not the musicians. To the Preservation Hall Jazz Band past, present and future, on behalf of music fans everywhere, my hat is off to you. May you continue to play forever and always.