Preservation Hall Jazz Band: They’re just getting started

Ben Jaffe, far left, is continuing a family tradition.

Founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Preservation Hall began as a live music venue to showcase and create a sanctuary for jazz music in the city where it all began.

“New Orleans jazz was the hip-hop of its day,” says band director and son of the founders, Ben Jaffe. “To me, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton were the Jay-Z and Kanye of their day. They were breaking new ground and newspapers were saying that they were corrupting our youth. It’s amazing that jazz has gone from the brothels to Carnegie Hall. But like any music, it goes through cycles and in and out of popularity. When my parents were in college, New Orleans jazz fell off the radar for most people. If you look at the 1950s and ’60s and what was happening in our country politically and socially, the South was still Jim Crow south. The Civil Rights Amendment hadn’t passed yet, so there wasn’t an appreciation of the African-American culture. And that is what brought my parents to New Orleans — their love of New Orleans music and some intangible thing — something that inspired a couple from Philadelphia to move to New Orleans in the midst of something like the civil rights movement. This was a white, young, Jewish couple opening a venue that celebrated African-American music. I mean, this is something that people were getting run out of town for doing.”

Not long after they opened their doors, a house band, known simply as the Preserva-tion Hall Jazz Band, was formed. Several incarnations and 50 years later, Preservation Hall continue to fulfill their mission, with Ben Jaffe assuming his dad’s responsibilities as well as playing tuba in the band.

In their half-century existence, the Hall and its band have never strayed from the ideals they were founded upon. “We try to emulate the way that music has always been passed down from generation to generation,” says Jaffe. “What’s amazing about New Orleans music is that it’s an unbroken bloodline all the way back to the earliest days of jazz. There are very few styles of music that we can claim to be our own, something that’s purely American. The beautiful thing about the Hall and the group is that it doesn’t need to remain one thing. We can be on stage, at a festival, jamming with a rock band, playing in a jazz club or a parade. We don’t even need electricity. We’re talking about some of the most accomplished jazz musicians in the entire world. Can you think of any other band that has an age range from their 30s to their 80s?”

If you go
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Friday, noon
WGBH Boston Globe
Summer Arts Weekend, Copley Square, Boston, Free
Newport Folk Festival
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Fort Adams State Park,
Newport, R.I., SOLD?OUT


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