I don’t know a lot about music — that’s Kevin Kinder’s specialty — but I do know a lot about New Orleans. I know the Mississippi River is the blood of the Vieux Carre, and jazz is its heartbeat.
Even 11 hours from St. Peter Street, in the well-lighted, heated and comfortably seated Walton Arts Center, all I had to do Thursday evening was close my eyes. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s “Creole Christmas” show transported me to the city I love most.
The musicians that took the WAC stage — surrounded by festive holiday lighting — are legendary. Charlie Gabriel, on clarinet and vocals, can trace his musical heritage to the 1850s, and his own musical career has spanned most of his 76 years. Perhaps the highlight of his performance was his version of Louis Armstrong’s “I Still Get Jealous,” with a twinkle in his eye on the lyrics “And dear, I know a secret you didn’t know I knew: I still get jealous ’cause it pleases you.”
I remember Clint Maedgen, tenor sax player, clearly from last year’s show with the Del McCoury Band. Not only is he a gifted vocalist, but he looks like he ought to be singing in a 1920s speakeasy — just fun to watch!
Freddie Lonzo stole the show on trombone by proving just how windy he was — eventually playing flat on his back on the floor, as Gabriel encouraged him “lower, lower.”
Drummer Joe Lastie Jr. and creative director and tuba player Ben Jaffe had their moment in the spotlight with a duet. And Mark Braud on trumpet proved both range and passion — as Gabriel encouraged him “higher, higher.”
Perhaps the best part of the evening was pianist Rickie Monie’s medley of Christmas songs. Born and raised in the Ninth Ward “to jazz-loving church musicians,” Monie managed to play in every style imaginable during the course of his solo and got a standing ovation for it.
Sometimes a “legend” is someone who is simply past his prime. As Braud said before intermission, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is just getting started.