The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been around for over a half a century. Band members has come and gone. But the music and its mission remain the same. Much like the city of New Orleans where the band was founded and first came alive, resiliency has been the key to its survival. Incorporating the blues with its distinctive Southern-flavored jazz sound that has persevered over the years has a lot to do with it as well.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band gets its name from the intimate venue (Preservation Hall) in which was originally a tavern that housed an art gallery in 1812. Weathering two different deadly and disastrous hurricanes since, Preservation Hall is still standing today. So is the group with its namesake that was created 51 years ago.
“Jazz was born in New Orleans,” said Ben Jaffe, director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “Preservation Hall was part of an unbroken bloodline dating back to the early days of jazz.”
That bloodline runs deep. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is considered the sound of New Orleans. From performing at the legendary Cargenie Hall to playing live in front of international dignitaries, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s mission is to promote the sound of New Orleans. And if you’ve never been to New Orleans, trying to capture the essence of the city and its music is like trying to put a wasp in a bottle with a Louisville Slugger.
“That’s just like trying to describe the sky blue,” Jaffe said. “You can’t describe that.
The city of Los Angeles will be sure to get a taste of that sound when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band line up on stage Father’s Day weekend at the Hollywood Bowl to perform at the 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Sampling a taste of that New Orleans sound from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is as authentic as it comes.
Jaffe, charged to lead the band that his parents-Allan and Sandra Jaffe-formed in 1961, has lived all of his life in the city’s distinguished French Quarters. Pianist Rickie Monie hails from New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. Drummer Joe Lastie Jr. studied jazz at the local YMCA in New Orleans with Wynton and Brandford Marsalis.
Clarinet player Charlie Gabriel is steeped in New Orleans jazz tradition, following in the footsteps of his drummer father Martin Manuel Gabriel and grandfather-Martin Joseph, a noted cornet player. Trumpeter Mark Braud is another member with musical linage, playing with Big Easy legends such as Eddie Bo and Harry Connick Jr.
Trombone player Freddie Lonzo and saxophonist Clint Maedgen also boast strong New Orleans ties. Make no mistake; Los Angeles will be treated to the real deal. But this is not the first time. The band has played the Playboy Jazz Festival before.
Each time it is a little different, Jaffe said. What is different, however, is that Angelinos won’t have to worry about getting some off-shoot music group canvassing off of a rich tradition. This is no imitation ensemble trying to capture the New Orleans sound.
“The music we play is rooted in tradition,” Jaffe said. “A lot of the music we play is based on early American music, on blues, on spiritual music and on popular songs.”
Jaffe remembers what it was like growing up around the famous New Orleans sound of jazz and blues, being surrounded by countless talented musicians as they wandered in and out of his parents’ home, grooving in impromptu and deliberate jam sessions.
It was a fascinating scene for Jaffe. Listening to that kind of music-day in and day out-rubbed off on him. He watched and listened to his dad play. He followed and kept his ears tuned to the ground to the rhythmic and pulsating sounds of blues and jazz played by local and well-known musicians creating the type of sounds that New Orleans is famous for.
With all of those influences around him, it wasn’t very hard for the music to be implanted inside of him. In many ways, Jaffe, the band’s tuba player, was somewhat destined to follow what his parents started. Allan and Sandra Jaffe came to New Orleans from a big city in the North at a time when the city and the rest of the South were not so welcoming if you were Jewish.
The Jewish couple recognized they were in the minority. If you came down to the southern parts of the United States, and if you were Jewish, you were looked upon as an outsider. However, that didn’t stop the Jaffe’s parents from settling down and sowing seeds in New Orleans. As a musician, Allan Jaffe felt he was in the right place. His wife was right there with him.
“My parents made a very, very bold and brave choice,” Jaffe said. “They did something that they believed in, and it was New Orleans music. They moved here in 1961. Historically, it was a very important time in our history…I can only imagine that was a challenge because of all their family and friends thought they were crazy for leaving a job in Philadelphia and moving to New Orleans.
“I know that our first stories of them being here was getting shut down by the police, having to go to court and spending time in jail for basically doing what they believed in and that was providing space to perform in…What separates Preservation Hall from other music venues is that this was a place that it had a difference of what the musicians’ contribution was. Preservation Hall created to provide a very dignified, performance-based style of music.”