When rtb mentioned this show, I wanted to go because it sounded like fun but also because I hadn’t been at the Highline Ballroom for a few years. The club is under the shadow of the High Line, so it’s a trek from the subway. And worse when it’s raining. Doors opened at 6pm and the show was at 8pm but we knew that there were only a few tables (if the show is sold out – if the show isn’t sold out, they would put out more tables), so if you wanted a seat you’d have to get there early. I was near the front of the line but the people ahead of me kept having more and more friends join them (and more umbrellas trying to squeeze in) and I was starting to despair that we’d never get a table. About 5:30pm we saw the band walk in and could hear them doing their soundcheck, so I was guessing that we weren’t getting in at 6pm. I was right and they finally let us in about 6:20pm. The tables at the side were taken up right away but there were three booths at the back of the floor that hadn’t been there a few years ago. Surprisingly the two booths on the side were taken but the booth in the middle was free. I sat down right away and looked for something that said the booth was reserved but I was okay. A couple asked if they could join me. Since we were only me, rtb, and mollyT and it was a big booth, I told them sure. A waitress came over, already angry before the night had even begun, and told me that the minimum for a booth was six people, so I’d have to share it. I looked at her quizzically because she seemed ready for a fight (that I wasn’t going to give her) and told her that was no problem. An older couple was looking for seats and since we had one available and the booth next to us also had one seat available they sat side-by-side in the two booths. The waitress still seemed angry when she took our drink order (the glasses of wine rtb and I ordered was not very good) and our order for salads took forever to come out. We could see other people being served hot food before our salads came out. The waitress was apologetic and mellowed by the time mollyT arrived and ordered.
One of the weird things is that above us was what looked like a trampoline with a disco ball in the center.
The floor filled up so we knew we’d have to stand when the band showed up. There was no opening act. About 8:20pm the band came on stage and the room turned into the French Quarter. The Preservation Jazz Hall Band has been around for over 50 years. Its mission is to employ New Orleans musicians and spread New Orleans jazz throughout the world. It’s difficult to sit while they’re playing but I managed to do so because I’m lazy. So, I didn’t see the band as much as listened to them because of all the people in front of me. Sitting also helped cut the reverb, which was overwhelming – it was U2/Bono level reverb on the instruments, which I found annoying. I’d also forgotten about the bass speakers on the floor at the Highline Ballroom. Despite being at the back of the crowd I could feel the booming blowing on my legs.
The band played two sets. The first started with a more modern jazz feel and then I even heard some sounds that reminded me of Klezmer but then it went to New Orleans jazz and the second set was definitely get on your feet – if there had been room there would have been a second line.
During the second set, there were vocals on some of the songs.
Just when I was thinking, “I bet they play Colbert this week,” Ben Jaffe (son of co-founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe) mentioned that the band would be appearing on the The Late Show. Jaffe also said that 12 years ago they were homeless and NYC gave them a home.
Jaffe (Creative Director; upright bass/tuba) announced the band members: Clint Maedgen (tenor and baritone saxophone/vocals); Walter Harris (drums); Branden Lewis (trumpet); Ronnell Johnson (trombone/vocals); Kyle Roussel (keyboards); and Charlie Gabriel (tenor saxophone/clarinet/vocals). There weren’t a lot of musicians on stage but they filled the room musically (and could have done so without the reverb).
If you can’t afford a trip to New Orleans, then see the Preservation Jazz Hall Band. Even if you can afford the trip, seeing the band will remind you of bon temps in New Orleans.
By Carene Lydia Lopez