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Television Review

Engaging Look at Music of Preservation Hall Jazz Band

A PBS special focuses on a familiar set of tunes as well as players' interviews.

November 27, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

New Orleans' image as the cradle of jazz is based upon impressive historical fact. The breakthrough, genre-establishing efforts of everyone from Buddy Bolden and King Oliver to Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong firmly established the Crescent City as the source from which the music flowed.

It's a fact that hasn't escaped the city's tourist industry, and the collage of jazz sounds that emerge during a weekend stroll through the crowds on Bourbon Street underscores New Orleans' inescapable association with virtually every imaginable form of jazz.

For many, however, New Orleans' single, must-hear musical experience takes place at a somewhat run-down building on St. Peter Street, between Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, via the performances of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The ensemble has gone through many manifestations since it was established in 1960--in a former art gallery--by the late Allan Jaffe and his wife, Sandra. But the venue's continuing dedication to the crowd-pleasing compositions and improvisations associated with early 20th century New Orleans-style jazz has made the band's performances a prime destination on the tourist circuit.

The PBS special "Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Night in New Orleans" offers a relaxed, folksy look at what happens on almost any given night in the hall. The production is fairly basic, essentially structured around a continuing set of tunes from the band, augmented by occasional taped interview segments with each of the players.

For jazz fans, there is the opportunity to hear such jazz warhorses as "Basin Street Blues," "Tiger Rag" and, of course, "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," all knocked out in spirited, foot-tapping style before a smiling, engaged audience. For more sophisticated jazz listeners, there is the odd juxtaposition of trumpet player Wendell Brunius' playing, which is clearly more rooted in bebop than New Orleans style.

Yet the real appeal of the special is far more expansive--an engaging look at the players, the music and the sheer ambience of a timeless New Orleans institution.

* "Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Night in New Orleans" airs tonight at 10 on KCET.

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