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Sept 22 , 2011
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Jaffe and Preservation Hall Jazz Band perpetuate spirit of New Orleans jazz
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicks off the Civic Music Association's 2011-2012 season with a concert on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Drake University's Sheslow Auditorium. Tickets are $15-$45 through Midwestix. A reception to meet the band following the concert will be held at the new Fred & Patty Turner Jazz Center ($10 or free to CMA members)..

By Michael Swanger

Fifty years ago, Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded Preservation Hall in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter in an attempt to preserve and celebrate New Orleans jazz music and its musicians. They intended to stay in the Big Easy during the civil rights movement of the 1960s before moving on, but fell in love with the city and never left.

Fifty years later, their 40-year-old son and tuba player, Ben Jaffe, serves as director of the venerable musical institution and its touring Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB), which marches into town Friday for a concert at Drake University. Jaffe, a second generation New Orleanian, is a prime example of how fully integrated music is in the culture, communities and families of New Orleans. In short, it's in his blood.

"Music in New Orleans isn't something separated; it's part of our church services, funeral processions and carnival celebrations. It's something you either are or you are not," said Jaffe over the telephone from his office at Preservation Hall, which first opened its doors in 1961.

Jaffe, who joined the touring PHJB the day after he graduated from Oberlin College in 1993, said that, regardless of his parents' affiliation with the New Orleans music scene, he would have become a musician. Yet it is apparent that his deep reverence and consciousness of PHJB's greatest attributes is the result of his upbringing and environment.

"That's the beauty of New Orleans. We're very happy with who we are, and we don't try to pretend to be anything else," he said.

Without question, Jaffe and his bandmates —  Mark Braud (trumpet, vocals), Charlie Gabriel (clarinet, vocals), Clint Maedgen (sax, vocals), Joe Lastie Jr. (drums), Freddie Lonzo (trombone, vocals) and Rickie Monie (piano) — embody the music of their hometown. For their current tour, they have prepared a special show that commemorates Preservation Hall's golden anniversary.

"This is an incredible moment in our history. Our concerts are a chance for us to explore the repertoire of the band and the musicians that have been a part of the Preservation Hall family," Jaffe said. "For me, that means going back and paying homage to the early New Orleans jazz greats, the people who literally built the foundation that we're standing on today."

Though Jaffe maintains the importance of preserving the music of Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Bunk Johnson, he also adds that the goal of the PHJB is to perpetuate the timeless spirit of New Orleans jazz music without treating it like a museum piece.

"It's important for people to realize that Preservation Hall is part of a continuum, an unbroken musical tradition that's been going on for a hundred years. That's an important distinction to make between us and bands that play period music. We're not recreating anything, we're simply doing what our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. It's one of those beautiful and unique elements of New Orleans and part of our bountiful culture that continues today," he said.

At the end of the day, however, Jaffe says the most important task Preservation Hall has to fulfill is to make people happy.

"As important as our music is and as serious as we take our music, when we're playing we're not taking it seriously. We're up there having a good time and playing music for the same reason that people in New Orleans have been playing music for a hundred years... to entertain ourselves and to entertain audiences," he said. "That's why our music has survived this many generations because our music is still relevant and entertaining. If people aren't dancing in the aisles, then we're not doing what we're put on Earth to do." CV

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