Heart of Louisiana: Preservation Hall

For the past 60 years, New Orleans jazz has taken center stage at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter.
Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 9:33 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - For the past 60 years, New Orleans jazz has taken center stage at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. It’s like stepping back in time and hearing the past and seeing the future of traditional jazz.

There’s a reason the old wooden floor sags, the ceiling fan lights are dim, and the walls are unpainted.

“We still have the same benches; it’s because the music that they heard when they came here for the first time changed them and it transformed them,” said Ben Jaffe, creative director and musician.

He is talking about his parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, who wandered into an artist salon on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter. in 1961,

“There was artists upstairs. There was poets. There was a photographer who lived in the ... in the courtyard,” added Jaffe.

Within a couple of days, the young couple from Pennsylvania got an offer they couldn’t turn down to operate the venue that became Preservation Hall.

“Many of the artists who played here were contemporaries of Jellyroll Morton and King Oliver and Sam Morgan. That’s unbelievable that there was this unbroken connection to the birth of this incredible art form,” explained Jaffe.

Seven days a week, you can sit in on a series of performances of traditional New Orleans jazz music just like his father, Allan, Ben now plays the sousaphone in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

“You appreciate, as a musician, seeing people enjoy themselves and having a moment where they can leave the sort of their worries at the doorstep,” noted Jaffe.

Ronnell Johnson also grew up in a family of gospel and jazz musicians. He’s now part of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

“It’s really precious that we have this music to perpetuate to the young folks and I’m one of them young folks,” said Johnson.

As you look at the 60-year history of this place, what would you say the impact of Preservation Hall has been on New Orleans jazz music?

“Oh, my gosh, it would’ve ... it would’ve just fallen by to the wayside as many traditions do. There’s more music today playing in this tradition than there was when I was growing up,” said Jaffe.

And to help perpetuate the music, Preservation Hall provides online music lessons so youth can learn from today’s masters.

“I’ve always loved this music, New Orleans traditional jazz, in particular, that always just has that happy music when you’re smiling,” explained Johnson.

CLICK HERE to learn more about visiting Preservation Hall and hear more of the jazz band.

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