Sunday, March 9, 2014

Backstage, Onstage...with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

CBS Sunday Morning, this morning, featured a piece on New Orleans’ venerable, famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This prompted memories of seeing and hearing the touring Preservation Hall group in 1967 while I was studying at Emporia State University (then Kansas State Teachers College). Before their fantastic performance, I chatted with two of its members, Billie and De De Pierce. They are long since dearly departed. 
While other veteran Preservation Hall musicians have passed on since its founding in 1961 (the average age at any given time is 70-75), replacements (mostly elderly) have stayed on, died, and been replaced themselves. Repeatedly. Lesley Stahl’s CBS feature did a fine job covering the current band and its history. 
My take on the band was published in The Bulletin, the university newspaper, Oct. 11, 1967, when I was a 20 year-old junior. 
By Steve Crum
Even if one were to understate the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Oct. 4 performance, the review would have to include such superlatives as “tremendous,” “exciting,” and “unforgettable.”
Why use such complimentary terms? If you were there, then you know why. If you were not there, then you missed something.
The fire member group, billed as “The Last original Dixieland Band Direct From New Orleans,” displayed a musical technique that dates back to the New Orleans jazz era of 1919.
There have been many imitators of the Dixieland sound. The Preservation group was the real thing.
Their music hit deep. You could not help but move when it moved, smile when it was happy, or to feel mellowed when it was sad. Their music leveled. It manipulated.
Take for an example the Emporia audience who presented the jazz group with a standing ovation…at the end of the first half of the show. Three more such ovations occurred during the second half.
Fifteen minutes before their performance began, Billie and De De Pierce, the two featured performers, sat backstage. They were quiet. Perhaps they were thinking about the 14 week cross-country tour they are presently on. For a group whose average age is 70 years, an extended tour is a tiring experience.
Surprisingly, however, it was a youthful Mrs. Pierce who praised the current trend of music. “We like all music.” She spoke of her memories as a young woman, of her long marriage to De De, and of New Orleans, When asked about once playing jazz for funerals, De De added, “Oh yeah, and they still have funerals like that down there.”
Soon it was time for the aged Dixieland musicians to perform. Billie led her almost blind husband out to his chair at stage center. He picked up his trumpet, and she sat down at the piano. The rest of the company soon came out: Jim Robinson, trombonist; William Humphrey Jr., clarinetist: and Josiah “Cie” Frazier, drummer. 
The following two hours were memorable.

It is too bad there were not more college students there. They would have witnessed a vanishing era, and then walked aaay feeling good inside. 
Enjoy this brief overview of Billie and De De Pierce in performance:

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