Christmas and all that jazz with Preservation Hall

by Ryan Snyder

Preservation Hall Jazz Band bring a little holiday cheer to SECCA. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Already having beenchristened with two near-capacity performances earlier this year, #003’s acharm for the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts’ Crossroads series. Thefamed Preservation Hall Jazz Band shuffled onstage to a sold-out crowd at thecozy McChesney Scott Dunn Auditorium on Friday night, the first of likely manypacked houses for SECCA’s fledgling concert series.

The seven-pieceevangelists of New Orleans jazz history took the stage in sharp black suits fora performance that’s a part of their Creole Christmas tour, and greeted thecrowd with an instrumental version of a song made famous by Joe “King” Oliver,“Dippermouth Blues.” Clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, this lineup’s most senior memberand himself part of a musical lineage dating back to the 1850s, took the song’sfirst solo, a scatty soliloquy met a few moments later by the rumbling tromboneof the great Freddie Lonzo.

Each player had a chanceto introduce themselves as they breezed through a number of New Orleans jazzstandards by the likes of Charley Patton and Countess Ada de Lachau. Workingfrom an entirely unique setlist, some selections were predictable, yet stillfun (see: “When the Saints Go Marching In”), while the band swung fast andloose on “Shake It and Break It,” a song they recorded with Andrew Bird fortheir 2010 benefit album.

There was a devoutacknowledgement of the troupe’s decorum as they swapped solos; idle members satpatiently with hands on knees while saxophonist Clint Maedgen crooned theCharles Brown holiday classic “Please Come Home for Christmas” against a subtlepiano curtain provided by Rickie Monie. The horns leaked in quietly on thefirst Christmas number of the evening, letting Maedgen’s soulful voice engenderthe holiday mood over the subtle arrangement. There were few moments when thefull band was in on a piece, though the rendition of “Tootie Ma Was a Big FineThing” saw Lonzo, Maedgen, Monie, and trumpeter Mark Braud, engaged with Jaffeon tuba and challenging one another for space while Gabriel sang the ode to BigChief Allison Montana.

Their 90-minute set was amicrocosm of New Orleans musical heritage and deeply respectful of the city’sillustrious traditions, except when they decided to break their own. “We never,never, never do this,” said Jaffe. “But it is the holidays.” After alreadyhaving second-lined through the audience playing a boisterous rendition of“Your Last Chance to Dance,” the crowd’s titanic ovation drew out thewooly-haired Preservation Hall Jazz Band leader and his mates for a rarecurtain call with the 80-year-old Gabriel at the helm.

He prefaced his songselection with a story about spending his teenage years in Detroit, where a nunat a local Catholic school would often sing a warm number entitled “Merry Christmasto You,” which he said he had forgotten for over 60 years until rediscoveringit only a short time ago. In a tone somewhere between Ray Charles and LouisArmstrong, he delivered a line that defined the Creole Christmas. “We wish youall a merry Christmas to cheer you on your way/This greeting is true/Youthinking of us and we’re thinking of you.”