If you think a clarinet player can'Â’t rock, then you'Â’ve obviously never heard Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Charlie Gabriel also plays a mean saxophone and has a sweet singing voice, not to mention some stellar dance moves.
Not bad for a guy whoÂ’'s set to turn 82 this summer.
He and his fellow New Orleans bandmates played two Savannah Music Festival shows for sell-out crowds March 20 at the Charles H. Morris Center on Broad Street.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band has played SMF before, back in 2012 in a collaboration with Del McCoury (which, incidentally, several members mention as a favorite matchup in their bios on the band'Â’s website.) That year they performed at Trustees Theater. Nothing against the venue, but some shows are just better in a more intimate setting. ThatÂ’'s why I was glad to hear this particular group for the first time at the Morris Center.
In a bigger space, I donÂ’'t think the audience would have been able to hear the answer-back vocals during some songs, and certainly not the nuances of the instruments and their players, which on this night also included Mark Braud on trumpet and vocals, Ronell Johnson on tuba, Joseph "Â“Little Joe"Â” Lastie Jr. on drums, Freddie Lonzo on trombone, Clint Maedgen on saxophone and vocals and Rickie Monie on piano.
This group has such a rich history, and they are truly keeping the tradition of New Orleans jazz alive. It felt like stepping back in time when they played.
Given that history, I honestly expected to hear a lot of songs I'Â’d heard many times over. Surprisingly, these guys pulled out tunes I wasn'Â’t familiar with at all, and that made the show even better. Most of these were originals from their most recent album, "Â“That'Â’s It!"Â”
I just never knew what was coming next, though I was particularly pleased to hear a personal favorite: Professor Longhair'Â’s "Â“Mardi Gras in New Orleans."Â” After the band left the stage, I was pretty stoked to see that the house lights didn'Â’t come up.
So I kept on whooping and hollering with the rest of the crowd until they came back to play an obvious encore choice: "When the Saints Go Marching In."Â” It was the only time I wasn'Â’t surprised all night, but their version was nothing less than spectacular and definitely kept the crowd on its feet.
There are still two more chances to catch Preservation Hall Jazz Band live in Savannah, at 6 and 8:30 p.m. March 21, and that second one is being billed as a dance party. The shows are technically sold out, but as SMF executive and artistic director Rob Gibson told the crowd Thursday night, Â“"Sold out never actually means sold out."Â”
So, while this may sound harsh, go ahead and take advantage of someone elseÂ’'s sick kid or broken-down car. ItÂ’ would be a shame for any tickets to these wonderful performances to go to waste.
Heather Henley is editor of DO Savannah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HeatherDHenley.