The Rapidian

Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Grand Rapids Symphony Open Summer Concert Series

After a year's absence, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park's Summer Concert Series returned, with a lively, energetic performance.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Jazz Band /Courtesy of the band

When Preservation Hall Jazz Band took the stage at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, it had been 667 days since that venue's last Summer Concert Series performance: a lifetime, in other words. A good-sized audience settled into chairs or on blankets. Several wore jazz t-shirts, sun hats, or both. It had been too long since we sweated together.

The band, nattily attired, took the stage. A single trumpet note played. The first number was instrumental, really a series of solos. Show-offy? Absolutely. That showiness served a purpose, demonstrating to the audience that they were in professional hands.

Throughout, instrumental songs (all bright, muscular, and fun) alternated with songs with lyrics. The latter were sometimes earthy, sometimes not; the former category included "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing." The titular character is trouble, but she's also the finest girl you ever saw. Who could blame the narrator for knocking on her door?

"Big Chief," a staple of New Orleans at carnival time, was a standout. It was possible to stay still while listening, but not easy; several attendees gave up the struggle and danced. The lyrics ("Me got fire, can't put it out / Drink fire-water gonna make me shout") were best ignored. Someday, someone will mount a sucessful campaign against them. Anyway, the heart of the song is in the driving piano and punctuating brass.

After three-quarters of an hour, the band left the stage, and the Grand Rapids Symphony stepped onto it. The perfect red disk of the setting sun began to sink behind the trees as Leroy Anderson's "Belle of the Ball" played. A short, well-played piece, it was suffused with gentle optimism. Anderson's "Jazz Pizzicato" followed, as did Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," a precursor of jazz.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band took the stage again, this time backed by the symphony. The band launched into "Come With Me," its power and beauty amplified by the symphony. Green and purple lights appeared onstage, fittingly; after all, those are the colors of New Orleans.

At times, the symphony served as backup; at other times, it was fully integrated, as if the jazz band had swollen by dozens of players. It was a cohesive, well-planned partnersip, resulting in an evening that was never less than fun, and that was, at times, thrilling. Which was only proper. After all, we'd waited 667 days.

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