It’s always a tad disappointing seeing Dixieland kings the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform anywhere besides their namesake French Quarter venue/hole-in-the-wall, but last night’s third of four gigs at the Dakota still felt closer to the real thing than their usual Orchestra Hall appearances. This week’s shows were (somewhat amazingly) the PHJB’s first stint at the Dakota. As the Dakota’s Lowell Pickett noted in his introduction, “They don’t usually play venues this small … except in their hometown.”
The intimacy certainly added a level of magic to some of the slower, softer numbers, including a bluesy rendition of “My Sweet Substitute” led by clarinetist Charlie Gabriel and a heart-string-pulling instrumental version of “A Closer Walk to Thee.” Other highlights included a slightly Latin-jazzed take on “St. Louis Blues” by trombone player Freddy Lonzo and, best of all, a spirited tear through “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing,” which Tom Waits sings on the new all-star PHJB charity CD, “Preservation.”
Bassist/sousaphonist Ben Jaffe, whose parents founded the hall/band in 1961, noted the group’s historical ties to Minneapolis during Tuesday's early set: It was the first place they performed outside of Louisiana, and they recorded their first CD, “Sweet Emma,” at the original Guthrie Theater in 1964. Jaffe also told a sweet story about being a kid and taking a call from legendary New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt – whose name he thought was pronounced “Hoyt” – in honor of Hirt’s widow Beverly, a local resident watching from one of the booths. New Orleans and Minneapolis seem to grow closer every year.