Decades of Jazz Playing

Photo Credit Clint Maedgen, 2010

For over 25 years, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, named after the famous concert hall in New Orleans, has championed the heart and soul of New Orleans jazz and has kept the music alive around the world. Their critical respect and success has enabled them to perform at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, and to presidents and royalty such as the King of Thailand. The multi-racial, multi-generational outfit talks about the importance of New Orleans jazz in musical history, the need for a general jazz hall of fame, and the future of the band.

Jeff Boyce: Although musician lineup has varied, a quarter of a century performing New Orleans jazz and promoting it worldwide is a great artistic feat. What key event touring outside the United States is most memorable to you?
Ben Jaffe: Last year we performed in Bangkok in celebration of the King of Thailand’s 84th birthday. The King of Thailand is a huge fan of the band. It was amazing to travel half way around the world and feel so welcomed.

You’ve performed rags, spirituals/hymns, and blues, among other musical genres. How important are these varied musical influences in your career?
New Orleans Jazz and New Orleans Culture come from the church, the military, Africa, Spain, France. and the blues.... Without any one of those ingredients, we wouldn't have New Orleans Jazz.

People often use “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland jazz” interchangeably. What do you feel are the differences between the two, if any? Are these distinctions important?
New Orleans Jazz is the indigenous music of New Orleans. Dixieland is a name other people call New Orleans Jazz. In New Orleans, it's offensive to use the word Dixieland because of its negative connotations. New Orleans Jazz comes from the African American Community of New Orleans. When this tradition became adopted by white players, it became known popularly as Dixieland. Preservation Hall plays New Orleans Music

Being awarded the prized National Medal of Arts in 2006, are there any other jazz musicians you feel should be awarded the same honor?
I wish Sweet Emma Barrett, Willie and Percy Humphrey and the dozens of other musicians who played at Preservation Hall were alive to receive this honor. It really belongs to them.

A general Jazz Hall of Fame is long overdue. What are your thoughts on this?
Absolutely, we should have a Jazz Hall of Fame. And it should be in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz!!!!!!!

What top three albums of yours would you recommend for beginners and why?
I can't single out three albums. A good place to start is with Jellyroll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson... Oh, and Mar Rainey and Bessie Smith. It all started with them

What do you want the world to know most about the Preservation Hall and its history?
We;re alive and making great music. The guys in the band today are third, fourth and fifth generation New Orleans Musicians!!!! That's not happening anywhere else in the U.S.

How do you feel the New Orleans jazz music scene is doing?
Better than it's ever been in my lifetime. The Hurricane shined a bright light on our city. For many people, it was the first time they paid attention to New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street... One of the hard pills to swallow is in many ways, our cultural community is stronger today than I can ever remember

Any upcoming works of yours that we should be aware of?
We recently recorded an album with the bluegrass legend, Del McCoury and his sons. It's a collaboration we've been working on for over a year. It's amazing to me how two completely separate musical traditions can come together to create a whole new genre. We are also releasing a documentary about Preservation Hall directed by Danny Clinch and featuring the band My Morning Jacket. There's a bunch more stuff on the way including a 50-year retrospective.

by Jeff Boyce