Ninety and Still Swinging!
Narvin Kimball Ninety and Still Swinging!
At age ninety, banjoist Narvin Kimball, last surviving original member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, is committed to passing on the music to todays young musicians to guarantee it is in goods hands as we approach the next century. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band started in 1966 as a collection of 120 New Orleans old-time musicians playing in a French Quarter art gallery. When Narvin Kimball at age 57 joined the original Band, he was its youngest member at the nightly performances while delivering U.S. mail during the day.
As a mail carrier for thirty-five years, he never missed a single day without pay and was late only three times. The pride of his tenure with the Post Office and his professionalism with the PHJB showed as he was immaculately attired in his appropriate mail or musician uniform with shoes shined and shirts cleaned and pressed.
Playing professionally since the 1920s and making his recording debut in 1928 on Columbia Records, he was told to "wait his turn" to be the PHJB leader, as senior band members preceded him in that role. These included Willie and Percy Humphrey, Dede and Billie Pierce, Jim Robinson, Cie Frasier, Kid Thomas and George Lewis. They, and others, have all passed on, leaving Narvin Kimball as its sole original practitioner.
Born in New Orleans in 1909 and the son of Henry Kimball, a well-respected New Orleans bass player who performed in the Crescent City at the turn of this century, Narvin quickly earned a reputation as a dynamic left-handed banjo player. During the 1920s while playing with the highly regarded Fate Marable Band on Mississippi River boats, he established musical relationships with musicians he would perform with for decades. One was Willie Humphrey, another original member of the PHJB and with whom Narvin would play for over 60 years before Willie's passing in 1996.
From 1935-1960, he played the string bass with popular swing groups including the Sidney Desvigne orchestra. Today we are seeing a resurgence of swing music, of which he was an original member.
In 1960, he returned to his banjo playing. Narvins playing and singing quickly became a favorite of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which started a few years later. With the PHJB he has performed throughout the world and with the countrys major symphony orchestras, including the San Francisco Symphony. His vocal rendition of Georgia, a crowd pleaser, is guaranteed to bring a tear to ones eye.
Whatever Narvin does, he does eloquently. Whether it is his singing, banjo playing, or dressing it is always impeccable. He is the consummate professional.
Now, as the last of the original generation of traditional jazz players and senior member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, he feels an obligation to pass the traditional music torch to todays youth who will carry on this American musical cultural art form into the next century.
These northern California engagements will mark the first time Narvin has played with a "youth" band where no musician will be over 30 years old. Watch these youngsters try to keep up with Narvin Kimball while he teaches a few tricks to these youth.
The youthful members of this band are some of the countrys best young musicians: