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‘I Tell People We’re Like the United Nations’: How Ben Jaffe Preserves Preservation Hall

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South Magazine — There aren’t many music rooms in the land more safeguarded, undiluted and pleasingly frozen in time than Preservation Hall in New Orleans, a low-lit and spookily evocative venue that’s about the size of your living room and way more sparsely decorated.

Since 1961, the room has hosted one primary tenant: the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whose members have both lit up St. Peter Street and served as traveling evangelists of the New Orleans music for 50 years. But though the band has been guarding and perpetuating the sound of its birthplace for more than a half a century, last year they did something they’d never done before: drop an album of original material. That record, “That’s It!’, composed by the band and produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, earned the group fresh ears, got it playing with the Roots on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and properly kicked off the next 50 years of its history.

“That’s It!” was partly the brainchild of bassist/sousaphonist Ben Jaffe, who, as the hall’s creative director as well as the son of founders Allan and Sandy Jaffe, is charged with guarding and expanding the foundations laid by everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to King Oliver to Louis Armstrong. He talked to South about how to get that done.

Does your daughter have any notion what her dad does for a living?
Well she doesn’t know we make money doing it (laughs). But she understands that music is going on. She comes to the Hall to see us, and she wants to be around the music. She loves it; kids are such little blank hard drives.

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