Play it again: Preservation Hall, a musical mission — and all that jazz
Since jazz is an indigenous art form, what could be more appropriate than the fact that Preservation Hall was established in an art gallery? The weathered building at 726 St. Peter St. had been Associated Artists, a gallery whose proprietor, Larry Borenstein, had invited musicians to rehearse there because his work at the gallery kept him from going to concerts. Word of these sessions got out; among those who showed up were newlyweds Allan and Sandra Jaffe from Pennsylvania, who were looking for a city to call home. Enchanted by what they saw and heard, they decided to stay, and they became the hall’s co-founders in 1961, with Allan Jaffe taking on day-to-day managerial chores after the couple’s sons were born in the 1970s.
Preservation Hall, New Orleans’ shrine of traditional jazz, is still going strong, with at least three sets every night, which veteran musicians play before audiences that regularly pack the un-air-conditioned hall. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band — founded in 1963 to take the music beyond the walls of the hall — will play Sunday (May 7) at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; its set is scheduled to start at 1:55 p.m. at the Gentilly Stage.
- Allan Jaffe died in 1987. His son Ben is the hall’s creative director. Like his father, he plays tuba with the band. Ben Jaffe also plays upright bass and banjo.
- If you want the musicians to play a particular song, you’ll have to pay for it. Traditional tunes cost $5, requests for other kinds of music are $10, and top dollar — $20 — is reserved for requests of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Papa John Joseph, a string-bass player who had performed with Buddy Bolden, dropped dead at Preservation Hall on Jan. 22, 1965, after playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He was 77.
- The building housing Preservation Hall was erected by Agathe Fanchon, a free woman of color, who bought the property in November 1817 for $13,500 ($205,453.12 in today’s dollars). She bought only land; a fire the year before destroyed the building that had stood there.
- An outbuilding behind Preservation Hall housed the studio of Joseph Woodson “Pops” Whitesell, a popular, widely exhibited photographer, from 1921 until his death in 1958 at the age of 82.
- Although Preservation Hall’s home is — to say the least — funky, the band has played in such spiffy venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the United Nations and the Hollywood Bowl.
- Never mention the word “Dixieland” in Preservation Hall. It’s not the type of music the hall’s musicians play.
Preservation Hall is working to spread its influence, and its promotion of traditional jazz, beyond its French Quarter home. After a half-century of presenting traditional jazz, performed by its veteran practitioners, the organization established the Preservation Hall Foundation in 2011 to underwrite music education, research, historical archiving and outreach campaigns to enhance appreciation of this important form of music that was born in New Orleans. “The hall is an important part of our cultural fabric,” Ben Jaffe said. “It’s been around long enough to have inspired and influenced several generations of New Orleans musicians. Art and traditions must have a home to prosper. Preservation Hall has been that home.”