Founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the now legendary Preservation Hall was originally an art gallery, run by Larry Bornstein, in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter. Bornstein began holding informal jam sessions for his friends, out of which grew the concept of Preservation Hall. The small, intimate venue served no drinks, had no air conditioning, but it welcomed people of all ages who were interested in nurturing and preserving the traditions of the early 20th century jazz pioneers. With a deep reverence and respect, both musicians and audiences alike came to Preservation Hall seeking to preserve the music that evolved in New Orleans around the turn of the century and to bring it to contemporary audiences in its purest form. Various permutations of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began touring in the early 1960s, featuring many musicians who had actually performed alongside original pioneers like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, and Bunk Johnson, passing on the traditions of these pioneering musicians and this great American music form to the younger generations.
Credit is due to Bill Graham for having the foresight to present such a diverse musical experience, but the Tanglewood audience is also to be commended for having such open minds, which allowed them to appreciate the joyful, timeless spirit of this music. During the summer of 1970, Graham took his concept outside the realm of New York City and San Francisco by presenting a series of now legendary concerts billed as "The Fillmore East At Tanglewood" at the lovely outdoor setting in Lenox, MA. On this particular night, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opened a bill that also featured ex-Lovin' Spoonful bandleader John Sebastian and headliner's Chicago Transit Authority. When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opened this triple bill, they featured the now-legendary husband and wife team of Billie and De De Pierce. Married in 1935, Billie Pierce was a talented barrelhouse pianist and blues vocalist, while her husband, De De Pierce played cornet, as well as being a passionate singer himself. De De had gone blind in the 1950s and retired during that decade, but by the early 1960s they were both back in action and can be thoroughly enjoyed here, as they were fronting the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on this tour.
Performing with an illustrious list of musicians, including Preservation Hall founder, Allan Jaffe himself on tuba, the group bring the classic Dixieland traditions to the stage of Tanglewood. The set is remarkably diverse, celebrating blues, hymns, rags, as well as popular jazz songs of an earlier era, all faithful to the sounds of the original practitioners. Some of this material was certainly familiar to all at the time, with "Hello Dolly" and an expansive take on "When The Saints Go Marching In," being the most obvious examples, but for most of the audience on this night, it was likely their first exposure to many of these songs. It should also be noted that although the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's musicians always remained reverent to the style of the originals, they did not attempt to smooth out this music in order to make it more accessible to a younger audience. These remarkable performances maintain an authentic old Dixieland edge to them, something this Tanglewood audience might not have been consciously aware of at the time, but that they inherently appreciated.
In addition to the aforementioned songs, highlights include the celebratory "Bourbon Street Parade," the old time blues gem, "Freight Train Blues," and the technically impressive "Hindustan." It should also be noted that the latter two of these tracks, which open the recording, are essentially a live soundcheck prior to Bill Graham's introduction.
Several other instrumentals that allow these musicians to explore the groundbreaking sounds of this historical era are also included, with "Panama Rag" and the undeniably infectious "Billie's Bounce" being the most accessible to new listeners.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band continues to the present day, as committed as ever to continuing the musical legacy begun in turn of the century New Orleans. While the personnel has changed and even incorporated children of founding members, they have remained true to their original mission. The version of the band heard here, fronted by Billie and De De Pierce, is often regarded as the most authentic of the numerous permutations. When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band hit the Tanglewood stage, it was at the height of the "Woodstock musical era," and not particularly conducive to this vintage American music. This performance is a testament to both the musicians, the Tanglewood audience, and Bill Graham, who together transcended the so-called generational gap and were capable of celebrating such a unique, diverse, and joyous musical experience together.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band Web Site
Written by Alan Bershaw