Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs at Suffolk Theater on November 26. PATRICK MELON
The New Orleans jazz ensemble Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs “A Creole Christmas” at Suffolk Theater on November 26. COURTESY SUFFOLK THEATER
To kick off the holiday season, this weekend, Suffolk Theater in Riverhead will present the famed New Orleans jazz ensemble, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to perform “Creole Christmas” — a holiday take on their classic jazz.
“We’re not going to beat everyone over the head with Christmas, but it will definitely be in the theme of the holidays, holiday spirit,” said Branden Lewis, a trumpet player for the band.
Born on December 15, Lewis loves Christmas and enjoys playing holiday music.
“I’m excited to play as much as we can,” he said. “Some of the band members want to play like 15 to 20 percent Christmas music. I want to play like 95 percent Christmas music. So we’re probably going to meet somewhere in the middle. But I’m always excited. Obviously, we all know a lot of Christmas songs, but there are some that we had to learn specifically for this tour. So I’m excited for some of those.”
The band, which performs at Suffolk Theater on November 26, has been playing New Orleans jazz since 1963. Its original members performed with icons in the jazz world like Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Bunk Johnson. Its name comes from the famous Preservation Hall venue on Saint Peter Street in New Orleans and the group was founded by tuba player Allan Jaffe and his wife Sandra, the parents of the current director Ben Jaffe. The group has performed at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, for British Royalty, and the King of Thailand, just to name a few.
Gary Hygom, the executive director of The Suffolk, raves about the band and in a recent interview, said he has brought them to every music venue he has worked for. However, this is the group’s first Christmas show at Suffolk Theater.
“If anybody is even the smallest fan of New Orleans, jazz, and traditional New Orleans-style music, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is kind of the home for that,” he said. “It is some of the most fun, energetic, uplifting, great music you could imagine. I was working as a kid for Islip Council way back when they brought the band, and I’d never heard anything like it, and I just fell in love with the music and the guys that were playing it. So, I brought them everywhere. They were everywhere I’ve been. I bring them in, and they sell really well.”
The band tours about 100 days a year, and Lewis explained there are six band members in this group, and another 60 members of the collective back home in New Orleans. Many of those members were previously touring musicians, and they are now in quasi-retirement from going on the road, but still play regular gigs at Preservation Hall.
The band’s average age of 35 speaks to a generational shift in the music. Several of the original band members have retired or passed on. So, the current group takes inspiration for the setlist from the older generation of band members.
A theater like The Suffolk may be somewhat different than the band’s intimate home performance space in New Orleans, but Lewis said that the players are comfortable performing in venues of all sizes.
“The Preservation Hall in New Orleans, the room holds about 120 people, and it’s somewhat of a large living room,” said Lewis. “I’ve played with this band at Madison Square Garden. We’ve played to crowds at Coachella of 80,000 people. We’ve done football events for almost 100,000 people during the national anthem or halftime shows. We get a nice balance of all of the things — and we’re definitely not intimidated by an intimate size audience.”
The Suffolk will present Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing “A Creole Christmas” on Sunday, November 26, at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $69 to $95. This show is just the start of the holiday music season and the theater has several other festive shows lined up in the coming weeks: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, known for their jive and swing music, presenting their versions of Christmas songs alongside original compositions on Friday, December 8; Cherish the Ladies, a Celtic group performing two shows on Saturday, December 16, promises an interactive holiday sing-along with engaging performer Joanie Madden; “A Rockabilly Christmas” show on December 15, featuring Jason D. Williams, Gene Casey & The Lone Sharks, and The Vendettas, is a staple holiday show at Suffolk Theater that consistently sells out due to its crazy fun atmosphere; The John Denver Christmas show on December 17, with performer Chris Collins, offers a nostalgic experience, emphasizing the universal appeal of John Denver’s music; A new addition to the Christmas lineup is the Classical Christmas concert featuring 30 professional classical musicians organized by David Winkler, who has a background with the Long Island Symphony Orchestra; The theater will also see the return of the Lords of 52nd Street band on December 23, performing an evening of Billy Joel’s greatest hits and “The Nylon Curtain” album front to back. While not labeled as a Christmas show, the band plans to incorporate festive tunes.
Suffolk Theater is at 118 East Main Street in Riverhead. Visit thesuffolk.org for tickets to all shows.
One fine body…