Jazz is America’s greatest cultural contribution to the world. Nobody who attended the concert at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe would dispute that statement.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band classed up Lake Tahoe with an inspirational, impeccable 80-minute performance of bossa nova, ragtime and, most of all, cool jazz. From the first relaxed trombone solo by Ronell Johnson, listeners knew the night would be special. As it is with great music, energy built with each tune.
Led by pianist Rickie Monie, the band played a jazz funeral tribute to Allen Toussaint, complete with a second-line horn march. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band toured the West Coast last year with Toussaint, the New Orleans piano player, composer and producer who died on Nov. 10, 2015.
“Playing at Lake Tahoe, we are 7,000 feet closer to heaven,” string bass and tuba player Ben Jaffe said. “This will take us the rest of the way there.”
At the song’s conclusion, the audience of more than 500 rose from their chairs for a standing ovation. Jaffe encouraged the crowd to remain on their feet and dance, and most of them did so for the rest of the show, unusual for an older South Shore Room audience. They sang, too, and sounded pretty good. Jaffe instructed them how to clap in syncopation, “1-2-3, 4-5.”
Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra, renovated the Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1961. Their concept was to preserve jazz music, which was competing with the popular new sound, rock ‘n’ roll. The Preservation Hall welcomed all musicians regardless of their skin color, which was unprecedented in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow.
Two years earlier, in 1959, Bill Harrah opened the South Shore Room in his casino. It’s hard to imagine the room ever sounding better than it did last night.
To see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the concert, click the LINK.