Back in 1961, Preservation Hall opened it’s doors at 726 St. Peter Street, providing a home for one of America’s purest and most unique art forms. For over 50 years, crowds have lined up in the French Quarter to get a chance to step inside this time capsule, grab a seat on the old wooden benches if they are lucky, and witness traditional New Orleans jazz. Preservation Hall was founded by Allan and Sandra Jaffe, quite literally with the mission to serve as a sanctuary for this home-bred music and to ensure its survival from generation to generation.
Shortly after, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was born in order to spread the gospel. The music that they delivered was always bigger than any individual, and the group has seen a countless number of well-respected musicians perform as part of their outfit. The transfer of tradition and experience has always been integral to the band as well, as they have had members playing alongside jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Buddy Bolden to name a few.
Preservation Jazz Hall @ Carnegie Hall (non professional recording)
Although the band has been touring nationally for the past 25 years, they were temporarily left without a home-base in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina forced Preservation Hall to close until April 2006. During this uncertain period, the band’s mission was of the utmost importance and they were instrumental in raising awareness as well as charity for the cause. They saw a wide range of musicians, both on the local and national scale, contribute to their Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program including the likes Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, Yim Yames (Jim James of My Morning Jacket), and Del McCoury – all of whom were on hand Saturday night to help the Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrate it’s 50th Anniversary in New York City’s own famed music institution – Carnegie Hall.
Ben Jaffe, the son of Preservation Hall’s founders, and the band’s current creative director as well as bassist and sousaphone player, said some opening words about the history of the weathered building in addition to providing some lessons on the unadulterated jazz that they would be showcasing throughout the evening. With the core band on stage, they went into some of the New Orleans standards that they are known for. The stage began to fill in later in the set as dancers would periodically come out; clad in skeleton masks and donning parasols, evoking some of the Second Line spirit brought down with them from the Big Easy.
Some more local flavor was added to the mix as New Orleans natives Allen Toussaint and Trombone Shorty took to the stage with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. With almost 50 years separating these two musicians in age, it serves as a reminder of the success of PHJB in passing the torch down the line of generations.
Perhaps the most powerful sequence of the night was during “St. James Infirmary Blues,” a song popularized by Louis Armstrong, that has since become one of the most recognizable New Orleans standards. A frantic Jim James took over vocal duties for this song, with his gravely voice about as good a substitute for the Satchmo’s signature sound as possible. After James concluded his portion of the song and left the stage, the band kicked back into a much more upbeat reprisal of the song, lifting everybody to their feet.
Toward’s the conclusion of the show, the stage was as packed as possible as all of the night’s guests were once again invited back on stage for a jubilant rendition of “I’ll Fly Away,” which saw the singing duties passed every which way. By this point, the aisles were filled with people dancing, and the band was clearly responding to this extending the song as long as seemingly possible. As the crowd began trickling towards the exits, you could hear drums and horns emanating from the stage as the Preservation Hall Junior Jazz Band had their say in the night’s festivities. Fittingly enough “When the Saints Go Marching In” was the tune left ringing in Carnegie Hall, as many rushed to catch the final quarter of the Saints football team’s dismantling of the Detroit Lions back in New Orleans.
Written by Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer