In Conversation With . . . Ben Jaffe

Ben Jaffe is the son of Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the founders of Preservation Hall in New Orleans. It was his idea to create the album Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program; you can read the Voice review of this album here. Ben also plays tuba in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Recently, he took the time to talk with Wanda Waterman St. Louis about his parents, the album, Louis Armstrong, and why musicians wake up in the morning.

How it All Started

Back in the 60s, my parents were considering different cities to live in and New Orleans was at the top of their list. They came to New Orleans to get involved with the civil rights movement and to seek out a lot of the musicians they’d been listening to for many years.

In New Orleans, they got involved with a small community of people who were having these underground jam sessions for aging African-American musicians, in what they called a ?mixed social? setting. New Orleans was in the segregated South in the early 60s. We didn’t pass our last civil rights laws until 1965.

In the early 60s, New Orleans jazz was a style of music that hadn’t received the attention and respect that was due it. It was almost an embarrassment. My parents, not being from New Orleans, came here and immediately recognized this invaluable treasure. Without having any idea of what they were doing, they simply did what they felt they should do, what they enjoyed being a part of.

Preservation

The idea for the album came through friends at our record label. They came to us and asked us if we would consider doing a project to benefit the city. I came back to them with the idea of doing a project that would actually benefit the future of our musical legacy.

Selecting the performers was really just a matter of choosing the artists we felt would understand the project and whodunnits’d be excited to be a part of it. We reached out to artists who we respected, who had some sort of connection to New Orleans, and who we wanted to collaborate with.

I definitely think New Orleans music permeates all American music. If you go back far enough, it was popular music coming out of New Orleans in the early part of the last century that influenced the popular music of the 20s and 30s, so you find New Orleans influences in everything? in classical music, in Stravinsky, in Duke Ellington, in all these forms of music.

Louis Armstrong

There’s no way to get around Louis Armstrong. If You’re a musician and you don’t know who he is, shame on you. And by knowing who he is I mean truly understanding the impact that he had on pop culture. In my opinion, there’s no one we can compare him to because he was such an anomaly. He was an African-American who was as popular as anybody today. Here’s a man who as an African-American artist was fighting against all of the prejudice and the segregation of the day. He still was embraced and went on to sell millions of records and to be accepted not just as a musician but as an actor and an entertainer. At the same time, he created some of the most lasting music.

Making the Album

There are so many amazing stories linked with the recording of this album: for example, the fact that Pete Seeger showed up at the exact moment that we were rehearsing ?We Shall Overcome.? That was one of the moments when I literally felt that the ghosts of all of these people who had contributed to this movement in the 50s and 60s were literally brought into Preservation Hall in that moment. The . . . fact that Tom Waits came to New Orleans and recorded Mardi Gras Indian chants with us, the idea that Steve Earle, who had at one time played on the streets of New Orleans, was in Preservation Hall playing with us. With each artist, there was meaning behind their performance and they knew it and we knew it. We had very big shoes to fill.

we’re just proud to be part of a project That’s meaningful, and That’s all an artist can really ask for at the end of the day?for people to appreciate and enjoy the music we create. It’s the reason why we wake up in the morning.

There’s nothing dated about what Preservation Hall does. It doesn’t sound like a museum piece. we’re not creating a sound?we’re part of that sound. We are the direct descendants of people who’ve played this music since its inception. We’ve inherited this tradition, and It’s part of who we are.

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