8:15 pm Sun., March 15
Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter St., 522-2841; www.preservationhall.com
In recent years, Dave Bartholomew turned down the opportunity to play in front of tens of thousands of people at Jazz Fest. Last year, he declined to perform in front of 2,000 fans at the Ponderosa Stomp, a show he had been billing as his farewell performance. But this Sunday, the legendary (and legendarily irascible) trumpeter will play in front of about 100 people at Preservation Hall.
His first gig at the Hall since before Hurricane Katrina and his first in New Orleans since moving back four months ago — he relocated to Dallas after Katrina, though he did return to play at the 2007 Ponderosa Stomp — is a homecoming of sorts. In the early 2000s, Bartholomew played a weekly gig at the Hall, says creative director Ben Jaffe. In the years before, he was close with its late founder Allan Jaffe, who made a point of taking his son Ben to Bartholomew's gigs whenever they occurred. When the younger Jaffe took over the landmark venue, he gave Bartholomew an open invitation.
"Mr. Bartholomew is one of those very few people who has that carte blanche at the Hall," Jaffe says. "One of my dad's proudest achievements was when Dave actually wrote and recorded a song called 'Preservation Hall.' My dad got such a kick out of that. And all around the world, whenever someone wanted the consummate band, my dad would say — it wasn't a recommendation, he would tell them — it was always Dave's big band."
"In a musician's frame of mind, it was a great thing for my daddy to be able to play Preservation Hall," says Ron Bartholomew, Dave's son.
Many fans know Bartholomew as the man behind Fats Domino's sizable curtain. As an A&R man for Lew Chudd's Imperial label, a job Bartholomew held for two decades, he signed Fats and subsequently co-wrote, arranged, produced and led the band on hits like "Blue Monday," "Ain't That A Shame," "Blueberry Hill" and many more. It was from his own big band that Bartholomew plucked ace players like drummer Earl Palmer and sax men Herbert Hardesty and Lee Allen for Fats' best-known sides. During that time, Bartholomew also lent his talents to dozens, if not hundreds, of R&B sessions that spawned landmark New Orleans tracks. He worked with a laundry list of stars that included Earl King, James Booker, Smiley Lewis, Robert Parker and many others, racking up a sizable catalog of hits.
On Sunday, the trumpeter, who in his youth was nicknamed "Leatherlungs" for his astonishing ability to hold a note, will play three 45-minute traditional jazz sets with his cousin Bob French's band.
Though Bartholomew is unmistakably one of New Orleans music's most essential architects, major recognition (at least locally) has for the most part eluded him — partly due to his own caprice. Last year, Bartholomew declined to appear at a ceremony during which he was to have received the key to the city and a special commendation from Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. According to Ron, his father's reclusiveness is due to his ability, at age 88 and with an untouchable legacy, to pick and choose his appearances carefully.
"Before the storm, my daddy was semi-retired, and he came out only to do what he wanted to do," Bartholomew says. "And playing Preservation Hall is something he wants to do."