Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The days of the sharp-dressed men and women - when the suit and the shoes a person was wearing meant that they respected their appearance enough to put some time into an appearance, rather than just going out looking like a sloppy knucklehead - might be coming back, though they've been wounded for quite some time. The pride in dress doesn't necessarily signal any kind of artistic authenticity, but getting onto a stage wearing a good white shirt (thinking about people like Al Green, Justin Townes Earle, The Felice Brothers, Dawes), a classic black suit, hair all in place, with some hair treatment or not, and Sunday shoes shined to a fine glow, clicking against a hard floor is good for the soul. It's good to see and it generates an air of classiness that, when done right, can produce the kinds of romantic grandiosity that cannot be faked or manipulated. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a rotating group of some of the most esteemed musicians in New Orleans, are all kinds of big easy - the mindset, not the proper noun. They are consummate professionals, but it doesn't lend itself to a stuffy or by the numbers brand of jazz music. It's a style that waltzes, lurches and whistles Dixie. It is dripping with the bourbon flairs that might be transcendent there in the streets and the waters, living there amongst a proud group of people who regularly show their elasticity and that pride in the way New Orleans is pulled off, the way that it's perpetrated and seasoned. The group, made up of variously aged men, makes the blues sound like jazz, or vice versa. They cook up a temperature that would have a man sweating from every inch of the body, taking a sleeve across a forehead to sop up the perspiration every few minutes or risk having it trail and burn the eyes. They make notes feel as if they're filled with gentle bees and a great kind of alcoholic buzz, stretching the sensation of getting to the edge of a night where the men and the women at the dancing club (one from yesteryear, where the dance was more about swinging and cutting loose and less about grinding and pressing parts in a sexually explicit way) are running around and pulling people to the dance floor to just move, to stomp their feet and twisting the balls of those feet into the linoleum or wood, letting those bodies move around like a ragdoll to the music. The women may just be in their stockings at the point when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicks it in. The men have loosened their ties and their hats are cocked at disarrayed angles on their heads. They've all become more charming in the night's vulnerability, a feeling that is shared by those experiencing it themselves. It's a vulnerable nature that still feels essentially human, as if there's no reason not to just embrace the waywardness of the darkness. The songs that the band can bring to life the best are those of the people - where there's plenty of adversity that needs to be overcome - a woman's unfaithfulness, poverty, or getting worked over by the devil and his distaste. Band leader, Ben Jaffe, the son of the originator/founder of the Preservation Hall back in the 1960s, leads this group through its nimble and explosively leisure phrasings and compositions as well as giving the music the kind of direction needed to thicken the sound while making sure that nothing is lost to the embers. There's spirit and old cigarette smoke rolling off of this music, treated with the dapper lacquer that makes it passionately precise and open for interpretation - from the late nights, the lifted inhibitions and the hangover that's left for the head the following morning.