Turn back the hands of time to 1960 and imagine yourself walking through New Orleans’ French Quarter district. You just so happen to pass a small art gallery that commands your attention…not because of the artwork adorning the walls but because of the sound of brass instruments. You notice a bustling of jazz musicians gathered inside for what appears to be an evening jam session and it stops you in your tracks. You go inside, strike up a conversation with the owner of the gallery and take in the moment to realize you just stumbled upon the birth of one of America’s truest art forms — Traditional New Orleans Jazz Music.
That’s exactly how it went down for Allan and Sandra Jaffe, a young couple on their honeymoon from Pennsylvania. What started as nightly rehearsal sessions in Larry Borenstein’s art gallery eventually morphed into their vision to form the historic Preservation Hall — a place for jazz musicians to perform and showcase their musical talents. In 1963 they decided the success of the Preservation Hall would require them to take the act on the road and thus the formation of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band tours today under the creative direction of Allan and Sandra’s son — Ben Jaffe — who also doubles as a multi-instrumentalist (tuba, string bass, banjo, percussion and backing vocals) for the band. We had the pleasure of catching up with this extremely down to earth musician to chat about their upcoming 2015 New Year’s Eve show in Telluride at the Historic Sheridan Opera House.
T.com - What’s it like coming from below sea level to 9000 above?
BEN - The last 4 years it’s been a tradition of ours to go swimming on New Year’s Day. So when they asked us to come on NYE, it was something I had to ask the band to see if they wanted to do knowing exactly how different it was going to be for us… So we decided to start a new tradition. I’m getting the guys up on skis! Maybe we can find a hot tub somewhere looking at the mountains. That would be ideal right?
T.com - You guys have performed in Telluride numerous times…What’s it like coming back?
BEN - It’s really special for us. We’ve made an effort to be in New Orleans the past few years especially because I have a newborn. We’ve always wanted to be home with our families. But coming back and experiencing the beauty and majesty of Telluride…we all wanted a reason to come back, you know what I mean? And this was it! We are really looking forward to it and decided to stay a few days, get a feel for the community and get some skiing in. I’m really excited to bring the family and get them all up on the mountain.
T.com – What was it like growing up with parents that had such a major influence on New Orleans Jazz music?
BEN - You didn’t even know because it was just your family. It was several years before I truly realized what my parents had done for the city of New Orleans. I literally had no perspective until I was at least 18 years old. When I was 19 I went off to college and was able to examine New Orleans through the lens of an outsider. That’s when I finally understood.
T.com – Did you ever feel pressured to become involved in the music industry and follow in your parents footsteps or did it come naturally?
Ben – My parents never put any pressure on me. In fact, if anything they tried to discourage me because they saw the struggles and lifestyle choices that a lot of musicians dealt with. But growing up in New Orleans means being a part of a community where you are constantly absorbing music. You can’t leave your house without hearing music.
T.com - You recently attended the funeral of the legendary musician/songwriter/record producer Allen Toussaint. What type of impact has he played on your musical career?
Ben - Oh…I mean…he’s our Boss. New Orlean’s music Boss. The foundation. He’s extremely important because he is responsible for the last 50 years of New Orleans music. He is singular. No one else compares to him. Allen had a recording studio here in New Orleans and everybody wanted to record in there with him – Paul McCartney and The Band just to name a few. He’s had a profound influence on me personally. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band had the pleasure of doing 42 shows with Allen. It was 48 grueling days on the road but to watch someone with his level of musicianship was such an amazing experience. Musicians learn everything from their elders.
T.com - What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Ben - Get to New Orleans as soon as you can! Most people run to New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. Go to New Orleans and seek out the different sorts of music there with an open heart and mind. You will really experience something! New Orleans gave birth to some amazing musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Dr. John…the list goes on.
T.com - What’s next for PHJB?
Ben - Before we go to Telluride we are heading out to play a few shows in Cuba. We’re extremely excited to get to play music with Cuban musicians that come from all different walks of life. We are also working on our next album, writing and recording. We aren’t really trying to rush the new album but be on the lookout for it in 2016.
T.com - I’ve gotta ask because I’m a foodie…Where’s the best place to eat in New Orleans?
Ben - Nothing beats home cooking. My family grew up with a pretty traditional New Orleans diet consisting of red beans and rice on Mondays and sausage or chicken dishes throughout the week. As a touring musician it can be tough but I try to eat as healthy as possible.
T.com - Thanks for taking the time to chat with us and we look forward to the show on December 31 at the Sheridan Opera House!
Ben – Absolutely!