While the sentence on their website says it all - "The Preservation Hall Jazz Band travels worldwide spreading their mission to nurture and perpetuate the art form of New Orleans Jazz" - it doesn't say enough about what you experience at a performance such as the one Friday evening at The Smith Center's intimate Cabaret Jazz Theater.
From trumpeter/vocalist Mark Braud's throwaway line - "Last night we were in Breckenridge (Colo., elevation 9,000 feet), so we're just happy to be breathing tonight" - to the everyone-on-their-feet rhythmic hand-clapping in the rousing "When The Saints Go Marching In" finale, the spirit of New Orleans wasn't just alive and well. It was jumping, sparked by the plainly evident camaraderie of the seven experts dishing up the cream of the crop from their vast playlist. The only regret overheard from musically stuffed concert-goers was that the 75-minute set was too short.
As the Review-Journal's Sonya Padgett noted in a Thursday preview article, current PHJB leader Ben Jaffe (son of founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe) was off, about to become a dad. Trumpeter Mark Braud stepped right up as lead vocalist and host. One of the youngest on the stage at 39 (sub sousaphonist Jeffrey Hills is in his 20s), Braud's got more than roots with the band (he's the nephew of PHJB trumpeters Wendell and John Brunious), he's got the chops to pull off Satchmo-like riffs as well as a room-silencing hand-over-mute-quiet solo that crescendoed into a fun-loving shout-inducing wail, bringing the house down and the applause up.
That's not to say there's any kind of oneupsmanship going on with these cool cats, because all got their moments in the raise-the-roof solo spotlight. Clarinetist Charlie Gabriel has played with more stars than Heinz has flavors and his love of licking that licorice stick down through the decades couldn't have been more evident than his humble post-solo bows followed by ear-to-ear "I'm lovin' it" toothy grins.
If it was possible for any of the guys to look like they might have been having more fun than anyone else onstage, it would be trombonist Freddie Lonzo: waving an arm to mark a punch point in a tune, eyes closed heavenward with a heavy sigh during an "Oh, yeah" moment, plenty of for-band-members-only hoots and shouts peppered along the way. You get the idea that Freddie would play his heart and soul out to an empty room 'cause that's just how he rolls, brother.
Slicked back hair and pencil mustache are the icing on saxophonist Clint Meadgen's tasty musical cake. His shared-mic backup vocals with Braud added just the right notes to Gabriel's call-and-response lead vocals. When Rickie Monie's piano solo was next, Braud told us "The Professor" wouldn't go on unless he was wearing a tux with tails. Problem solved with roars of laughter brought on by a suddenly revealed black towel tucked into and over the back of his pants. Drummer Joe Lastie and Jeffrey Hills on sousaphone provided perfect rhythm backup throughout - with both equally kicking their solos out of the ballpark
How comfortable are these guys? Sharp suits aside, music is the pajamas they walk around in every day. But the line of the night may go to Jason, the guy sharing our cozy four-top table with his wife, Stacy:
"Fourteen hands, one soul."