THE PRESERVATION OF JAZZ

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band doesn't recreate music history, it is music history. With more than 350 years of performances logged by its seven members, the band has become the guardian of a distinctively American sound.

"We play traditional New Orleans music -- they call it jazz," says clarinetist Willie J. Humphrey Jr. "It not only brings back the memory of the great New Orleans jazz musicians, it causes people to give vent to their feelings. They clap their hands and move their bodies to the beat."

The tradition began in 1961 when art dealer Larry Borenstein founded Preservation Hall to give audiences a chance to rediscover the vitality of the original jazz form as played by the original musicians. The late Allan Jaffe then transformed the hall into an institution that attracts musicians and listeners from around the world. Today, in addition to performing at Preservation Hall, the band performs 100 concerts a year on tour.

"When we started, I didn't think it would last more than 10 years," says Humphrey. "But it's gone on for 26 years. It could go on another 10 years. You see, we got a bunch of problems: People like us."

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band's performance tonight at Wolf Trap begins at 8:15 p.m. Joining clarinetist Humphrey will be trumpeter Percy B. Humphrey, pianist James Edward (Sing) Miller, banjo picker/bassist Narvin Henry Kimball, drummer Frank Parker, trombonist/banjo picker Frank Demond and bassist James C. Prevost.

For information, call 255-1868.

-- Alex Stoll

INVASION OF CAJUN

When you think Louisiana, you think Cajun food and jazz. But if Bruce Daigrepont has his way, Cajun music will join that list.

"Louisiana used to be the only place to hear Cajun music," he says. "Hopefully the East Coast will soon be going as wild about our music as it has our food." Daigrepont, a "prairie Cajun" from southwest Louisiana, will bring his musical campaign, his handmade accordion and his band to the Birchmere and Twist & Shout this week.

"We represent not only ourselves, but the Cajun people and culture," says Daigrepont. "We don't play Cajun music for the money, but because we love it."

Daigrepont -- backed by fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux, bassist Sharon Leger and drummer Lynn Abbott -- will perform traditional songs as well as compositions from his album "Stir Up the Roux," which has the distinctive "bouncing rhythm" of Cajun music but incorporates different melodies and lyrics. "Ninety percent of Cajun songs are about a woman leaving a man, so I try to avoid the same lyrical ideas but try to keep it Cajun," says Daigrepont.

Daigrepont and his band will be at the Birchmere Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. and at Twist & Shout Saturday at 9 p.m. For more information, call the Birchmere at 549-5919 or Twist & Shout at 587-4352.

-- Steve Wyman

UNDER THE LITTLE TOP

"We are ordinary people who can do extraordinary things," says Paul Binder, as he strolls through sawdust wearing tails and riding boots, whip in hand. Sure, as if anything about a circus can be considered ordinary.

Binder, creator, artistic director and ringmaster of the one-ring Big Apple Circus, says some of his "ordinary" people are "The Flying Gaonas," a trapeze act from Mexico; Buckles and Barbara Woodcock (and their slapstick elephants); "America's Queen of the Air," aerialist Dolly Jacobs; and clowns Mr. Stubbs (Michael Christensen) and Gordoon (Jeff Gordon).

With only one ring, Binder's circus puts its emphasis on intimacy and craft, drawing inspiration from the American spirit. "We all aspire to fly, to balance ... Our artists reflect those aspirations in their performances," says Binder.

Glen Echo Park will be home to the Big Apple Circus from Tuesday, Aug. 11, through Sunday, Aug. 16. Show times vary. For tickets and information, call 626-1050.

To charge tickets by phone, call 1-800-233-4050.

-- Gigi Anders

PARKENING'S REVIVAL

Classical guitarist Christopher Parkening was a critical favorite when still in his teens. He then studied with the late Andres Segovia, who characterized him as "one of the most brilliant guitarists in the world." But in the early '80s, Parkening was tired and opted for several years of retirement.

Now, at age 39, Parkening is returning to the stage "with a much better attitude," due to his embrace of Christianity.

"Johann Sebastian Bach was a great inspiration to me," he explains, pointing out how Bach often annotated his compositions with Latin abbreviations giving thanks to God. Not surprisingly, Parkening will perform Bach's Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" during his 8 p.m. concert Thursday at the Kennedy Center.

For more information, call 254-3696.

-- Sarah Peasley

A MIDSUMMER ANXIETY

"When you have a bass wearing a donkey's head, something's bound to happen -- I know it," says Metropolitan Opera Conductor Richard Woitach of the Wolf Trap Opera Company's performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

And that's not Woitach's only odd concern. Benjamin Britten's score, based on the Shakespearean comedy, calls for a low G-sharp chime in the final scene and he can't find one. "We could use a chime an octave higher but it's a very impressive moment, when everyone retires to the bridal chambers, and it can't be a piddly sounding chime," Woitach says. "It has to be majestic with resonance."

Woitach says Britten has a sound all his own. "He uses distinct colorations in the orchestra, which make clear divisions of its various parts." An example is the "shimmery" sound of the strings and harps that accompanies the appearance of the fairies.

Performances are at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets range from $10 to $20 and are available at the Filene Center box office. They can be charged by calling 432-0200 or 800-448-9009.

-- Cristina Del Sesto