The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, founded in 1961, is the legendary New Orleans jazz band that plays every night in the heart of the French Quarter. Some of the finest jazz musicians have gone through the doors of Preservation Hall. New Orleans is noted as the place where music and cultures from around the world converge and resurface, having gone through a transformation that’s awakened by the spirit of the city.
The band recently released a new album, “So It Is,” featuring all-new original music. According to the band’s website, “the album taps into a sonic continuum that stretches back to the city’s Afro-Cuban roots, through its common ancestry with the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the Fire Music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, and forward to cutting-edge artists with whom the PHJB have shared festival stages from Coachella to Newport, including legends like Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, and the Grateful Dead, and modern giants like My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, and the Black Keys.”
Seven musicians make up the band today, and it’s their packed touring schedule, along with playing at Preservation Hall, that keeps the legacy alive. Always a favorite, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will play on the Island again on Sunday, July 23, at 5 pm at the Old Whaling Church.
The Times caught up with the band via email while they were in Chicago, and trombone player Ronell Johnson took some time to answer a few questions.
What’s the age range of the members of the band?
29 to 85.
Who’s been there the longest?
Charlie Gabriel is the oldest at 85.
What do you attribute your longevity to?
Being a part of the Preservation Hall family has always been my dream job. Since I was a kid. Aww, man, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. Bring the joy night to night.
Is there a favorite show that you’ve played?
Each night is incredible; when I think it can’t get any better, it does. And even the so-so nights are pretty great.
Do you think there’s a difference between a jazz musician and a rock or pop musician?
Um, I would really say the only difference is the style of music. I think the passion remains the same. You see a jazz musician and a rock musician playing, and they’re both at the top of their game. Both are working off the crowd and both are serious entertainers.
What inspires the band?
The audience. We feed off the audience. When we’re having fun, the audience is having fun, and we feed off that energy. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Do all of you have New Orleans roots?
Yes, we all do!
PHJB has been noted for igniting interest in New Orleans jazz. What makes it special, do you think?
New Orleans jazz is the happiest music on earth. Everyone loves music, but New Orleans jazz seems to captivate people in a way that other music doesn’t seem to. Whether a person knows the music or not, it always makes people smile.
Will you have time to spend at the beach or to check out local venues?
Last time we were there, it was so beautiful we were just walking around the town. We’ll probably take in the natural beauty, and I’ll spend some time playing my horn while looking out over the water.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Sunday, July 23, at 5 pm. Visit mvconcertseries.com for ticket information.