Preservation Hall in New Orleans must be the most understated famous venue in America. Tucked away on a sidestreet in the French Quarter just steps from the neon stench of Bourbon Street, for more than half a century Preservation Hall has been marked by a simple trombone case hanging over an unmarked door, behind which is the smallest venue you’ve ever heard of.
Though Preservation Hall hovers just inches above “speakeasy” status the huge lineups make it easy to find as showtime approaches, and on January 24th, 2015 I hopped in line hoping to make the cut for the 8pm show. The wait was long but it went by fast – the crowd was very social and talkative and the bar next door to Preservation Hall kept busy running trays of drinks up and down the lineup to keep us all juiced.
It’s a good thing too, as there are no drinks available inside Preservation Hall.
In fact, there’s nothing available in the small, square wooden room that passes as a venue. Nothing but unbelievable, authentic jazz music, that is. A hundred or so of us squeezed tight into the 30’ x 30’ room with wooden floorboards under our feet and nothing but a few yards of thick, humid air between us and the band.
We were staring down a drummer that was older than Moses, a pianist who never once looked at his hands, a young agile bass player who barely managed to stand still, the obligatory slithery trombonist and a trumpet player that raised the roof at least an inch. With no bar or services whatsoever there were absolutely no distractions; it was just music and music lovers vibrating together in sonic bliss.
We stared, we yelped, we clapped, we danced, and they played. We revelled in music that was over a hundred years old; music that was literally born just down the street. The wooden walls of the venue have been steeped in pure jazz like oak barrels soaked in aged whiskey; the room has been drenched in musical history and you could feel it.
For about forty-five minutes we shared audible argons with the best of the best that New Orleans had to offer and it was every bit as good as you’d expect it to be. It was all cliché jazz standards and it was all so wonderful. True, pure, and perfect.
Frankly, it was almost religious.