Monday, 2 March 2015

New Orleans Jazz Royalty Coming to Town

NEW ORLEANS, March 2, 2015 --- Ben Jaffe grew up with the sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

And the musical traditions of that great city punctuate his life like deep bass notes on a wild solo in a packed club.

Born and raised in the Latin Quarter, just a block from the hall that his parents Allan and Sandra founded in 1961, Jaffe is now the creative director of the band.

"If we opened our windows we could hear the music," Jaffe said in a telephone interview with New City Notes. "That was a beautiful thing."

Jaffe and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play Centre in the Square in Kitchener, Tuesday, March 10.  Forget about sitting and listening. Jaffe wants people to move.

"Oh man, we are going to make people dance," Jaffe said.  "To me that is something we want to instill in people , this permission to dance. You don't need it in New Orleans because it is something that we all kind of internally know, but outside of New Orleans people don't necessarily experience the music that way."

Jaffe's dad Allan was the director of Preservation Hall and played tuba in the band as well. Jaffe grew up following his dad around, and listening to legendary musicians playing jazz in the hall, at his home, in funeral processions and street festivals. Jaffe's Godfather was the founder and leader of the Olympia Brass Band in New Orleans.

 After high school Jaffe studied classical music and ethnomusicology at the world renowned Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. He returned to New Orleans, becoming the director of Preservation Hall, and later, the band's creative director as well. Looking back, it was a natural progression.

"My parents didn't push me to do it," Jaffe said. "They encouraged me to pursue what I enjoyed doing, which was being around my dad, and being around these older musicians and going with him to Mardi Gras parades, and going with him to funerals, and participating in all these musical and cultural events that are so bountiful here."

Jaffe plays tuba, double bass, banjo and percussion.  He also sings back-up vocals. Check out the band's website at

Preservation Hall has become a popular and revered institution.  It was founded at the height of the Civil Rights Era to help bring together whites and African Americans through music. To use the city's rich legacy as the birthplace of jazz, America's Music, to bridge America's racial divide. Some of the original stars at the Hall included Sweet Emma Barrett and Kid Thomas Valentine.

"When my parents got involved in 1961 New Orleans was a messed-up place man, the South was an awful, awful place, there was a lot wrong with it," Jaffe said.

"Fortunately New Orleans had managed to hold onto certain traditions, and didn't let segregation and all this hatred pull it apart," Jaffe said.  "And music is at the centre of our life in New Orleans.  There wasn't a home for it, and that's what Preservation Hall became."

The Hall became a centre where African American jazz pioneers are celebrated.

"It became what all great museums are to Picasso," Jaffe said, "except this is a living, breathing exhibit."

Jaffe joined the band in 1993 when he was 22. By far the youngest member.  All of the musicians in the band at that time had played with his Jaffe's dad.  The oldest members of the band in 1993 were Willie Humphrey, 92 and his brother Percy, 94.

The Humphrey Brothers, and other members of the band had played with the original jazz pioneers - Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Bunk Johnson. That is a unique musical lineage among jazz bands anywhere in the world.

Five years ago the Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrated 50 years of making music. With Jaffe's creative direction the band wrote and recorded a CD of original music called "That's It!" Remarkably, it is the first and only recording of original music in the band's history. It is unmistakably New Orleans Jazz, but it is also entirely new.

With that CD The Preservation Hall Jazz Band honoured the past, and laid out a joyful-musical road into the future.

"It just seemed perfectly natural and organic for us to create the newest evolution of the band, to create original music the same way Jelly Roll Morton did, King Oliver did, Louis Armstrong and Freddie Keppard did," Jaffe said.

In true New Orleans fashion the CD is a rich mixture of musical traditions wrapped in the unmistakable sounds of that great city.  Most of the music is composed by Jaffe and band members Charlie Gabriel, Rickie Monie and Clint Maedgen. The pop songwriters Dan Wilson and Chris Stapleton wrote two titles on the CD.  The CD was co-produced by Jim James, leader  of My Morning Jacket.

James and his sound engineer Kevin Ratterman set up the recording equipment inside Preservation Hall to record the new material live.  That session produced 11 tracks on "that's It."

"That's It" is hailed as an important milestone in Jaffe's work to carry forward the Hall's original mission while making it relevant to today's audiences, wrote Tom Sancton, author of Song of My Fathers.

Joining Jaffe on stage at Centre in the Square on March 10:

* Mark Braud, trumpet and vocals. A nephew of two former Preservation Band leaders, Wendell and John Brunious Jr.

* Charlie Gabriel, clarinet and vocals.  Great-grandson of New Orleans bass player Narcesse Gabriel, grandson of New Orleans cornet player Martin Joseph, and son of New Orleans drummer and clarinetist Martin Manuel Gabriel.

* Clint Maedgen, saxopone and vocals.  Leader of the multi-media alt.cabaret group The New Orleans Bingo! Show.

* Joe Lastie Jr., drums. Born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward.  Studied jazz under Willie Metcalfe at the Dryades Street YMCA with classmates Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

* Freddie Lonzo, Trombone and vocals. From Uptown New Orleans, grew up listening to Second Line parades.His first professional gigs came from the EG Gabon and Doc Paulin's Band.

* Rickie Monie, piano.  Also born and raised in New Orleans Ninth Ward.  In 1982 Monie was called to sub for the legendary resident pianist Sweet Emma Barret.  He's been onboard ever since.

* Ronell Johnson, tuba and vocals.  Also New Orleans born and raised. Nephew of the famous bass player Joseph "Kid Twat" Butler, who played with the Kid Thomas Valentine Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.     .

Under Jaffe's creative direction the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has collaborated with artists as varied as Tom Waits and Mos Def. It plays rock and dance festivals.The joyous music makes people move. They can't help it.  And it honours the past by bringing legions of new fans into the rich fold of New Orleans Jazz.

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