Audience members can expect to “just to be blown out of their seats” during the Center for the Performing Arts’ season opening performance, according to Director George Trudeau.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and bluegrass icons The Del McCoury Band will share the stage and blend two musical styles together at 7:30 tonight at the Eisenhower Auditorium.
“You don’t usually think of jazz and bluegrass going together so it’s not something you see every day,” John Mark Rafacz, CPA editorial manager, said. He called The Del McCoury Band “the greatest bluegrass band in America.”
Last year, the two groups collaborated and released an album titled “American Legacies.” Rafacz said that on the album the musicians really made an effort to blend their sounds and called it a “unique marriage” of jazz and bluegrass. The two groups’ stop at Penn State is part of their first tour together.
“It’s the sort of thing that sounds genuine and heartfelt and I think it’s just a really appealing sound that people will enjoy,” he said. “It’s the kind of music that makes a lot of people feel good and gives them a sense of both the past and the present.”
Rafacz said they are both American styles of music and it was inevitable that they would come together eventually. He said both celebrate different phases and passages of life.
He added that both of these bands have “really good musicians who can play the heck out of their instruments.”
This will be the first visit for The Del McCoury Band, but this is not the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s first time on the Eisenhower stage.
Preservation Hall is located in the French Quarter in New Orleans and was founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe , the parents of the current director of the band, Ben Jaffe. Jaffe grew up in New Orleans and has been playing music for most of his life, he said.
“This is a very rare opportunity to hear two American institutions perform together. I think that’s one of the great things about this project,” Jaffe said. ‘
He had met Del McCoury and his band previously at multiple venues, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He said this collaboration blossomed into what he considers another American art form — the fusing of bluegrass and New Orleans-style jazz.
He said the two genres have a lot in common as far as community. The bands also have a lot in common when it comes to family. Pennsylvania native Del McCoury also has a family connection within his group — his two sons play in the band.
Preservation Hall was founded in the height of the Civil Rights movement and was the first establishment of its time. Jaffe called it a “hotbed” of the period.
“Today we might not even notice something like Preservation Hall when it opens, but then it was very unusual,” he said.
Jaffe said it was very important that during the Civil Rights movement a venue opened that “not only celebrated African American music but also did its part on breaking certain color barriers in New Orleans.”
By 1964 America saw civil rights movement amendments pass, Jaffe said.
“I like to think Preservation Hall played an important part in it,” he said.
Jaffe said that part of the musical tradition in the band and in New Orleans is to mentor younger musicians so the traditions can survive and be handed down from generation to generation. Some of these younger performers, including one of Jaffe’s mentees, will be performing with the band tonight.
Trudeau said he was thrilled to be bringing “two giants of American music” to campus.
“I just thought that we not only would have this wonderful collaboration on stage but would have a really great audience for this collaboration,” he said. “The electricity from the house is going to be terrific.”
He said though the groups have two different backgrounds, the two will come together and share their love of American music, and find ways to tell their musical stories together. He said it is going to be an “absolutely rip-roaring concert.”
Tickets are $22 for students and $48 for adults. Prior to the performance at 6:30 p.m., Eisenhower will host an Artistic Viewpoint, which will feature several musicians from each group. This feature is free for ticketholders.
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