When I was a li'l kid in the early '60s, what is now formally designated “traditional” or “New Orleans jazz” was more commonly classified as “Dixieland.” This was also a time when black people were widely called “colored,” women were referred to as “broads,” and Republicans were generally considered “human beings.” In these more enlightened times, most now recognize how deeply wrong and offensive these sobriquets were, and I concur with the consensus—with one exception: “Traditional?” “New Orleans jazz?” Sheeeeit . . . regale your aural orifices of the early euphony of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Red Allen, King Oliver, et al.; shake your shimmy to such standards as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Muskrat Ramble” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”; and then tell me if “traditional New Orleans jazz” doesn't seem more than a bit pedantically vanilla to effectively convey the immeasurable pleasures of the greasy, funky, low-down, gator-gnawed, backwater, hooch-swilling, honey-dripping, loose-jointed, splooge-spattered, snatch-stankin', crawfish-sucking, razor-wielding, gun-toting, coke-hornin' genesis of America's original homegrown music. Down Beat-reading Wynton-fetishists disapprove; I, goddamn it, approve.
The point of this unpleasant preamble is that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is coming to town this week. PHJB was formed in 1961 to uphold the original sound, style and sensibility of first-wave “jass”—as it was contemporaneously and more bitchen-ly identified—in the face of encroaching modernity. Most of the group's original members—already fusty old fuckers 40 years ago—have since passed on, but PHJB, by design, is a concept and institution rather than a static lineup. Over the years, the constant has been that the group performs this music in blissfully loose-to-downright-sloppy fashion, with the emphasis on unbridled joy and down-home authenticity as opposed to fancy-boy technique. This is not to say PHJB hasn't had its share of great chop slingers over the years—merely that many of the principals are often past their prime, semiretired, don't-give-a-shit-anymore types who sound more like fun-loving old drunks with boners than fresh-faced young Berklee Music School grads who take themselves—and this music—oh so seriously.
The irony is that PHJB may well take great offense at everything I've written here, from calling their music “Dixieland” to questioning the precision of their performance to classifying them as old drunks with boners. Hell, for all I know, these guys are all bible-thumpin' teetotalers who haven't popped a pup tent since the Reagan administration. But they sound like old drunks with boners whether they strive to or not—bless 'em all—as evidenced by every PHJB recording I've heard from the '60s through the '00s, and that's exactly why you need to check them out.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs at The Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-4646. Fri., 8 p.m. $33-$40. All ages.