When you step inside Preservation Hall, you can feel the old wooden floor sag beneath your feet. And the room is dimly lit with walls that haven’t been painted in decades. There is something else that hasn’t changed – traditional New Orleans jazz music.
I’ve always known that this old music hall was the place to hear real New Orleans jazz. And I have visited several times over the years. But I did not know the story of why this place is here. There is no better person to hear that story from than Ben Jaffe, the Hall’s Creative Director. Ben’s parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, a young married couple from Pennsylvania, wandered into this place back in 1961 while on an extended honeymoon. Ben describes it as an artists salon, “There were artists upstairs, there were poets, there was a photographer who lived in the courtyard.” And jazz musicians would also hang out and play in jam sessions.
a living history at preservation hall
Ben Jaffe says his parents had a passion for jazz. And within a few days of their arrival, they were offered the opportunity to operate the gallery. “How can you turn down an offer like that,” Jaffe explained. “I wouldn’t just say once in a lifetime,” added Jaffe,” maybe a once ever moment.” That’s because the artists who were playing in the gallery in the early 1960’s were connected to the very beginnings of traditional New Orleans jazz. “Many of the artists who played here were contemporaries of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and Sam Morgan. That’s unbelievable,” Jaffe explains, “that there was this unbroken connection to the birth of this incredible art form.”
Nothing has changed since the Jaffe’s began operating Preservation Hall as a performance venue for New Orleans jazz in 1961. “My parents were really concerned about providing a space for these musicians that had been forgotten or neglected, or hadn’t received the accolades they really deserved,” Jaffe said. Just like his late father, Ben plays sousaphone and bass in the Hall’s jazz band.
Jazz every night at preservation hall
Approximately 60 jazz musicians are associated with Preservation Hall. They play in different band combinations on different days. On the day I visit, the touring Preservation Hall Jazz Band is in town and playing four sets, each lasting 50 minutes. The audience changes with each set. It’s an intimate experience, with visitors sitting on old wooden benches, only a few feet from the performing jazz musicians.
Trombonist Ronnell Johnson’s personality is as big as his sound, as he slides his way through New Orleans jazz classics, providing a counter melody to the trumpet. “What we have here is infectious,” Johnson says. “It’s a different spirit and a different soul that we have here in New Orleans that you can’t find anywhere else.” he adds. And that is why the mission of Preservation Hall is so important. The goal is to preserve this unique form of jazz and to make sure it is passed on to younger players.
when the saints go marching in
tradional jazz for a new generation
Preservation Hall routinely hosts field trips for young musicians. And more recently, it has created an online resource for music teachers and students. The Preservation Hall Foundation’s website provides detailed lesson plans for traditional New Orleans jazz music. And students can watch video tutorials from jazz musicians, who share tips on how to play the music. “This is ancestral information from generation to generation,” explains Ben Jaffe. The musical curriculum is available free of charge to teachers and students around the world.
Preservation hall featured on tv
getting to preservation hall
Preservation Hall is located at 726 St. Peter Street in the middle of New Orleans French Quarter. For showtimes and ticket information, go to the venue’s website