I decided to take a trip to Preservation Hall and record some photographs for my Dad who was there many years ago, and also to take a recording for him, of some Trad Jazz courtesy of the ‘Preservation Hall Kings of Swing’. Preservation Hall is so innocuous I walked right past it – its frontage is mottled with age and decrepitude, stained, pitted yet proud of its appearance. I loved it even before I realised what I was looking at. The legend ‘Preservation Hall’ is made from metal lettering and is unpretentiously displayed on a small overhanging post above the door. Quite the opposite from the garish neon signs which adorn the bars and clubs of Bourbon Street – more on this later.
Joining the queue to get in for a session of Trad Jazz. I ask if photography is allowed, ‘Not of the band, Honey’ is the answer but I managed to fire a couple off the hip and get away with it. Its $15.00 to enter for a 45-minute set, there is no bar and no toilet facilities. Some parts of the hall building date from the 1700’s. I arrived at the entrance just as the band was making its introductions and the hall was packed with a party of school children all dressed in red tee shirts. There was no space in the hall, either standing or seated along its original wooden benching. I stood to the side by the entrance to the ‘stage’ – in the ‘wings’ as it were, I got a great view of the musicians and also a good vantage point to make a recording – you can hear the recording at (insert YouTube link) The interior of the hall is as unkempt as the exterior, I honestly think that the place has not been decorated in 50 years if at all. The walls, cracked and bulging in places and pitted with age show signs of patch-up jobs; with mortar and plaster, but no paint appears anywhere and it looks like it never has. Preservation of the Hall seems adhered to not only in terms of Traditional Jazz music but also ‘Old New Orleans’ structures, interior and therefore atmosphere.
The music was fantastic, great musicians who tour around the French Quarter sometimes doing up to four gigs a night. These world-class musicians are happy make money from tips given for requests, and there is a sign above the musicians heads which states:
‘Traditional Requests – $5.00’,
‘The Saints $20.00’
I have seen this sign in old photographs of the hall and the prices are considerably lower. An upturned metal bowl looking rather like a bowler hat, sits on a stand and money is placed into it by the requester, or rather gracefully; by the trombone player in this case, folded like a floppy leaf, over the rim. During forty-five minutes the band banter and josh, laugh at private jokes and sweat profusely in the humidity. They kick up a real storm with the fast trombone-slider numbers, the drummer ricochets off the rim and counts in the trumpet solo. They all stand: trumpet, trombone and clarinet and raise their instruments to the roof and the crowd, cheering jumping and clapping, loves it!
Here is a little Photofilm I made of the moment:
Bourbon Street just around the corner from St Peters, where Preservation Hall is located is a vibey, edgy and sensory over-loaded environment. It is a narrow street full of bars playing Electric Blues, more Trad Jazz, Soul and Stax and one sad-looking Country and Western outfit. The street stacks up like a pack of gambling cards standing on end, dark colonial curves of iron front the balconies and compete with electric neon. You can take your drinks out into the road in plastic containers and drinking on the street in New Orleans in general seems to be OK. Hustler clubs and Strip Joints quaintly called ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ abound and commercially complement the bars, each doing a roaring trade as a drunken, and very un-gentlemanly traffic swerves out of the blurs bar and over the road to the strip joints and back again for more.
Street entertainers, also dressed in lights, glitter and voodoo masks do tricks and play music. A guy plays with drumsticks, brilliantly, on upturned white plastic buckets. A band on a street corner, around seven black guys play a funky mixture of Jazz and Blues with an African mix thrown in, they blast out on a tuba and drums, three trumpets and clarinet. As I watch and photograph them, a little girl moves tentatively in from the side, joining the line up, and starts to blow on a toy trumpet. The contrast between the small white girl and these big black guys is great. The band looked amused, one laughs out loud and misses his notes and they all smile at her, two move over to play with her. The little girl stays there for the whole number tooting along on her plastic horn; she was being a part of the band but looking so serious with her shades on, as if she was really concentrating on playing right and looking as cool as possible. I catch a photograph just at the point where I see her Mum reaching in to pull her away. Perhaps trumpet lessons may be on the agenda when she reaches the age of 5!
After three hours of night time on Bourbon Street its all a bit too much for me, especially as ordering one drink brings you three, the heat and noise and the sheer hustle of it all gets claustrophobic: its time to leave.