New Orleans' Preservation Hall Marks 60 Years of Celebrating Jazz
Tucked between crawfish-colored buildings on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, Preservation Hall, with its mottled exterior paint job and raw wooden shutters, doesn't demand your attention, at least at first blush. It's been that way since its opening 60 years ago.
"Preservation Hall opened its doors, really, without much fanfare at all," says Ben Jaffe, whose parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded the place in 1961. "One of the reasons it was successful is because nobody was paying attention. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been able to exist because of their policy to be open to people of all races and all backgrounds."
Fresh off an extended honeymoon in Mexico City, Allan and Sandra Jaffe stopped in New Orleans on their way back to Philadelphia. They never left.
"They managed to meet the right people in the right place at the right moment in time," says Ben. "It was an historical moment. It was the Jim Crow period, and the city was segregated. My parents came to discover a gallery in the French Quarter that was having these music sessions where they celebrated the African American Creole jazz pioneers of New Orleans. That's what my parents walked into—this incredible, magical environment—and met many of the people responsible for these jam sessions. Out of those sessions grew this idea for Preservation Hall."
From its inception, the beloved music venue has been a community stronghold honoring jazz and the people who shape it. "The purpose and intent of Preservation Hall was to create a safe space that celebrated the music that was born here in New Orleans and the jazz pioneers in this city who were still alive in the 1960s," says Ben, who plays tuba and double bass with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
But it's always been about more than the music, he notes. "It brought dignity and honor to a whole community of culture bearers and musicians that otherwise may never have been recognized for one of the greatest achievements and gifts that this city and country have given the whole world: jazz."
Sixty years later, this remains the worthy work of Preservation Hall—a mission made possible by the Preservation Hall Foundation, now in its 10th year. The Foundation funds initiatives that support Preservation Hall's collective of 60 musicians in a variety of ways, from stipends and benefits to continuing education. Over the past 18 months, the Foundation's emergency relief fund has been especially important in supporting their musicians, as COVID shuttered the doors of a venue that's typically open 360 days per year.
And even as the Delta variant has pushed the 60th anniversary celebration to May 2022, the doors of Preservation Hall are open once again, welcoming audiences of all ages for three shows per day, Thursday through Sunday.
For Ben, keeping those doors open is vital in giving the next generation an education in and an appreciation for the music that New Orleans created.
"It makes me excited to know that the work that we do at Preservation Hall is being passed on to another generation," says Ben. "[I'm happy that] there's a platform and vehicle for someone like Charlie Gabriel, who just turned 89 years old, to pass his knowledge and his experience to another generation the same way that the cultural information was given to him when he was a child."
This focus on the future colors Ben's view of the 60th anniversary too.
"It's not just a celebration of our past, but also a celebration of the next 60 years as well," says Ben. "I hope that Preservation Hall will be here for generations to come, because I know in my heart of hearts it makes the world a better place."