Music News

Saints Alive

New Orleans's seedy Bourbon Street is infested day and night with barfing frat boys, bug-eyed tourists from Keokuk and nimble-fingered pickpockets. Ironically, it is also home to some of the most disgraceful music ever to sully the name of traditional jazz. Right there in the birthplace of the art -- Buddy Bolden's Crescent City, Louis Armstrong's Big Easy -- bands of weary cynics hold forth in the clip joints, belting out cookie-cutter renditions of "When the Saints Go Marching In" hour after hour for drunken audiences who wouldn't know a trombone from a ham bone.

Alphonse Picou must be spinning in his grave.

Thank goodness, then, for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a venerable N'Awlins institution that has been nourishing the roots of jazz since 1961. It performs authentic, heartfelt, beautifully conceived and improvised New Orleans music every night of the year and will do so Thursday, April 19, at the Boulder Theater.

Actually, there are three Preservation Hall bands -- the one led by the superb trumpeter Wendell Brunious is coming to Boulder -- and personnel has changed over the years. Time has taken legends like Sweet Emma Barrett and Kid Thomas Valentine. But the quality of the music never slips. Preservation Hall, a humble French Quarter redoubt built in 1750, attracts overflow crowds every set. They sit in obvious physical discomfort on hard-backed benches and scarred kitchen chairs, soaking up the legacy of Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Kid Ory.

The Preservation Hall bands also tour four months a year, and if you've never heard one of them play "Tiger Rag" or "Rip 'em Up, Joe," get to Boulder. The Brunious band features bassist Benjamin Jaffe, David Griller on clarinet, drummer Joseph Lastie Jr., pianist Rickie Monie, Don Vappie on banjo and the sublime trombonist Frank Demond, who's graced the Preservation Hall stage since 1974. All of them care about every note.

While we're talking vintage music, don't forget the Summit Jazz Foundation's "Swinging Jazz Concerts" Friday and Saturday nights in the Seawell Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The quartet is first-rate: pianist Dick Hyman on piano, Ken Peplowski on reeds, guitarist Howard Alden (who ghosted Sean Penn's playing in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown) and bassist Michael Moore.

Last month, the exciting New York-based funk/jazz organ trio Soulive played Boulder's Fox Theatre and toured clubs in snowy Aspen, Vail, Telluride and Steamboat Springs. The group's effect on listeners (and dancers) was electric, putting everyone in mind of the great Hammond B-3 aggregations of the '60s and hooking into current hip-hop grooves. The trio's debut CD, Doin' Something (Blue Note) is a fine, hot-tempered expression of this new fusion. Organist Neal Evans, his brother Alan Evans on drums and guitarist Eric Krasno can cook. But if your soul still yearns for the heavy jazz/funk of yore, try Have You Had Your Vitamin B-3 Today? (Label M), a compendium of classic organ tracks that shows in no uncertain terms where newcomers like Soulive went to school. Featuring B-3 masters Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, Charles Earland and the all-but-forgotten Freddie Roach, this is a must-listen collection for nostalgiaphiles and students of the organic art.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo