Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Panama




Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band


New Orleans' Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Preservation Hall VPS-12)

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Sweet Emma Barrett (piano), Percy Humphrey (trumpet), Willie Humphrey (clarinet),

Jim Robinson (trombone), Josiah “Cie” Frazier (drums), Emmanuel Sayles (banjo), Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau (bass)


Composed by William H. Tyers


Recorded: Tyrone Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, October 18, 1964


Rating: 82/100 (learn more)

I wouldn't want to suggest for one minute that the venerated Preservation Hall Jazz Band, put together by Sweet Emma Barrett's around the time of this recording, was a marketing-driven concept targeted at tourists and other people who know nothing about the real history of New Orleans jazz. I will merely point out that, the year before this record was made, Sweet Emma was performing at Disneyland. Hell, you know it has to be authentic if Walt and his Anaheim brain trust approved of it. Then there is the building, the famous Preservation Hall, which was 214 years old when this music was made (in Minneapolis; shhh, don't tell anyone)—an edifice that had no connection with this jazz ensemble for 211 of those years. But if those walls could only speak...they would at least demand a cut of the action.

So what if the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came after "So What." It's the spirit that counts. And occasionally a bit of that spirit rises to the fore here. William Tyers's "Panama" is much beloved by fans of ragtime and early jazz, and it is played fast and loose for the Lake Wobegon crowd on this recording, with lots of hot New Orleans counterpoint. The horns are convincing in their anachronistic stylings. The weakest point is the bandleader. I'm not sure how Sweet Emma got her nickname, but it certainly didn't come from the touch her fingers display at the keyboard—they are about as subtle as ten falling bowling pins. But the band reaches the end of the song without any noticeable casualties, and lives to swing another day. There is, of course, no truth to the rumor that Jimmy Carter tried to give this version of "Panama" back with the canal, only to have Torrijos reject the offer.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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