Deep roots, wide influences:
preservation hall and tarriona "Tank" ball combine forces
August 1, 2023 | by Jonathan Curiel
Charlie Gabriel and Branden Lewis of Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Tarriona "Tank" Ball at SFJAZZ
The legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band returns to close out Summer Sessions 2023 (8/17-20), joined by singer Tarriona "Tank" Ball and multi-instrumentalist Norman Spence II of Tank and the Bangas. The 8/18 performance will be broadcast live as part of our Fridays Live series. For this month's exclusive article, journalist Jonathan Curiel previews this multigenerantional collaboration of New Orleans artists.
Its room is no bigger than an airport lounge from the early 1900s. And its wooden floor boards are known to sag under the weight of visitors — a sign of just how old New Orleans' Preservation Hall really is. But the venue's unassuming interior belies the charged atmosphere that always erupts when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs there and catapults fans into a state of rousing pyrotechnics. Dancing. Shouting. Even fainting has occurred as jazz aficionados from around the world crowd into a venue that only holds about 100 people.
When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band appears at SFJAZZ from August 17-20, the only question will be how it conveys that same musical intensity in a different venue. The answer is straight out of the Preservation Hall playbook: They're adding even more of a New Orleans flavor. By performing with vocalist Tarriona "Tank" Ball, who fronts the New Orleans band called Tank and the Bangas, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is spotlighting a singer whose sound is grounded in everything from hip-hop to R&B to, yes, jazz. A century ago, New Orleans' unique cultural milieu gave birth to jazz music. Ben Jaffe, who's the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Creative Director and also its tuba and bass player, tells me that his group — and jazz itself — has to keep evolving new ways of expression even as they honor the jazz sound that's always echoed from New Orleans' streets, parlors, and other public byways. Ball, who was born and raised in New Orleans — just like the 52-year-old Jaffe — is a generation younger than Jaffe.
"Tank is representative of the new music movement in New Orleans," he says. "They (Tank and the Bangas) have a reverence for and deep connection to New Orleans' music and traditions but also have all these modern, contemporary influences and inspirations, and are bringing all those to the table. To me, that's what keeps traditions alive, and keeps things relevant." That relevance was on display last year when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" with Ball before the tipoff of the NCAA men's basketball final at New Orleans' Caesars Superdome. Almost 70,000 people attended in person while 10 million watched on television and online, in what was one of the biggest non-jazz venues that Jaffe's group has ever performed for. The pressure to get the song just right — to have it swing with verve and pizzazz but also be respectful of its traditional orchestration — was immense. This was no recording session with multiple takes. This was live music in a social-media era where critics of all kinds could call them out in an instant.
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