Platinum List 2018: Best Live Music Venues

Café Carlyle, Ground Zero Blues Club, Preservation Hall

September / October 2018
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Home of legendary entertainers, these clubs define the best of the best in jazz, cabaret and beyond.

Café Carlyle

New York City, New York, United States

Now home to talents such as Alan Cumming and Laura Benanti, this utterly swank spot featuring music-inspired murals by Marcel Vertès has hosted cabaret legends from Bobby Short to Chita Rivera for more than 60 years. 

Ground Zero Blues Club

Clarksdale, Mississippi, United States

For 17 years, this club in the heart of Delta blues country has presented incomparable musicians who preserve the heritage of the region, as well as a menu filled with Southern specialties including crispy catfish and pork barbecue.

 

Preservation Hall

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

In New Orleans, the past is always palpable, and the cozy Preservation Hall—housed in a 200-year-old building with just the right patina of atmospheric French Quarter decay—is like no other music venue in America. Apart from using simple benches that smack of a revival meeting, the audience stands or sits on the floor to witness nightly concerts by a handful of musicians who raise the roof playing traditional jazz. It was featured on the television show Treme, and such legends as Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint have swung by and performed with the band for a lark.

In the late 1950s, the New Orleans Society for the Preservation of Traditional Jazz conducted sporadic pass-the-hat jam sessions in an art gallery; in that era, old-school jazz was being eclipsed by the new fervor for rock ’n’ roll. In 1961, Sandra and Allan Jaffe turned the casual concerts into a permanent operation, Preservation Hall. Their son Benjamin—who plays bass and tuba with the band—took over in 1993. 

The Preservation Hall collective includes more than 100 musicians, and though the band has collaborated with Elvis Costello and Arcade Fire, for Jaffe, jazz remains America’s greatest contribution to popular culture: “This music is still for the masses, whether it’s Preservation Hall or playing Coachella.” To that end, the Preservation Hall Foundation mentors young musicians and records oral histories from such stalwarts as trombonist Freddie Lonzo, who performed with Kid Sheik at the venue in the 1980s.  

Drummer Joe Lastie started at Preservation Hall in 1989, when he was in his early 30s, and has a rich background. His uncle Popee Lastie performed with Fats Domino. Ornette Coleman and Professor Longhair would play at the home of Lastie’s grandmother Alice. “In high school,” Lastie recalls, “I studied at the Academy of Black Arts with Terence Blanchard and Wynton and Branford Marsalis; back then, I got Branford to do a gig on a Mardi Gras float with me.” 

At Preservation Hall, Lastie’s daily life is a kind of musical dream. “As a kid,” Lastie remembers, “I would borrow Pete Fountain and Al Hirt records from the library and use them to practice drumming. Both of them sat in with us at different times.”   

Lastie has also had his share of encounters with the pop realm: “After the BP oil spill, we did a benefit with Lenny Kravitz: He told me my drumming knocked him out. I also came up in hip-hop—at one point, Flavor Flav had a crush on my sister.”  

Over the years, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has traveled everywhere, from San Francisco with the Grateful Dead to concerts at the royal palace in Thailand: “The King of Thailand played alto sax with us, and he’s actually pretty good.” Lastie particularly enjoyed a night at Carnegie Hall, combining the Blind Boys of Alabama with an old standard. “Our last number was ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ” Lastie remembers. “The whole audience followed us around the block. No matter where you go, everyone loves New Orleans jazz.”—Tom Austin

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