Live Jazz and Bluegrass: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band at Royce Hall.

By Michael Katz

The 2010-2011 UCLA Live season came to a rollicking end Thursday night, with a tandem performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Del McCoury Band. Casual observers of the scene might have expected the two bands to play separately, as bluegrass music and trad jazz don’t exactly seem a likely pairing, but the two groups opened on stage together and over two sets linked up in various permutations for renditions of New Orleans and bluegrass standards, as well as new and refreshing material. By the time the first set ended, the stage actually seemed empty when one of the groups was sitting out a tune.

Both groups shared a sense of history at Royce Hall, with tuba player Ben Jaffe, son of the Preservation Band’s co-founders Allan and Sandra, talking about coming to UCLA as a child while the band performed, and Del McCoury reminiscing about sharing the stage with Bill Monroe. Jaffe, who took over the tuba from his late father,  contributed the opening tune “The Band’s In Town,” which featured introductory solos by everyone. The Preservation Hall group is basically a seven man band, with a front line anchored by Clint Maedgen on tenor sax, Charlie Gabriel on clarinet, Mark Braud on trumpet and Freddie Longo on trombone, with all four of them taking the lead on vocals at one time or another.

Del McCoury is the scion of his band, leading on guitars and vocals with his sons Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on banjo. Alan Bartram’s bass adds depth to both groups, in the same manner as the Hall’s Rickie Monie and Joe Lastie, Jr. on piano and drums. Jason Carter rounded out the McCoury band on fiddle. After a rousing instrumental, McCoury’s group hushed the crowd with an inspirational gospel hymn, “Get Down On Your Knees and Cry.”

At different points in the evening, practically everyone had moments to shine. Clint Maedgen played a nasty tenor on “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry,” adding vocals as well. Trumpeter Braud teamed up with Del McCoury on “Muhlenberg Joys,” with a slam/bang drum solo by Lastie to close the first set. Rob McCoury took the lead on “Banjo Frisco,” abetted by his brother Ronnie who shone throughout on mandolin.

The second set featured some more traditional numbers, highlighted first by pianist Rickie Monie’s soulful intro to “After You’ve Gone.” Del McCoury picked up the vocals, with Freddie Longo accompanying him on the trombone. “Sugar Blues” was a showcase for Braud, who played an elongated muted trumpet solo that was one of the sweetest moments this side of Miles. “Down My Way,” featuring Charlie Gabriel on clarinet and vocals, had the audience clapping from the start, and was a fitting faux ending to the program. Because, of course, you couldn’t complete the performance without “When The Saints Go Marching In.” The combined troupe presented that with full regalia, Del McCoury providing the lead vocals, the Hall’s front line alternating solos and singing along. Parasols and beads sprouted up in the crowd, and the band led a good portion of the audience through the aisles and then back up onto the stage. It was a perfect pairing of musicians who love to entertain and an audience that was more than ready for them.

*****              *****              *****

Sonny Rollins

The evening was also notable for the announcement of UCLA Live’s 2011-12 schedule, which promises to be one of the best in years. From a jazz perspective, every concert is a knockout: the Keith Jarrett Trio, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell’s 80th birthday celebration with B.B. King and Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ravi Coltrane with Geri Allen and Timeline, and the Mingus Dynasty.

The World Music lineup includes Hugh Masekela, Itzhak Perlman highlights the classical presentation, the Roots section is loaded with Earl Scruggs, Lucinda Williams, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Bettye LaVette with Jon Cleary. As UCLA Live transitions to its new director Kristy Edmunds, it’s treating its audience to a stellar lineup. For the full schedule, click here:  www.uclalive.org

Photos courtesy of UCLA Live.

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