Trumpeter Branden Lewis is a happy man – a man who is happy to have a job that allows him to do what he loves most: playing music.
Grammy nominee Lewis will join his fellow musicians from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB) on November 11 at the Miller Theater at the Kimmel Cultural Campus (formerly the Merriam Theater) for their performance in the Philadelphia area.
Lewis grew up in Los Angeles, but comes from a family deeply rooted in New Orleans and music.
“My grandfather, James Victor Lewis, is a Grammy Award-winning saxophonist,” he explains.
“He was originally from New Orleans but moved to Los Angeles in 1960 to try to escape some of the bitter realities of being a black man in Louisiana at the time. And even though I grew up in Los Angeles, Grandpa never let us forget that we were from New Orleans.
Although Lewis was raised playing the trumpet in church, in marching bands and in one of LA’s top youth orchestras, he admits he never thought of it as a career.
“I went to college to major in botany,” Lewis says. “But when I got out, imagine trying to get a job in this field. That’s when I realized maybe I could make a living out of music.
So in 2012 he moved to New Orleans and started playing with some of the best bands in town. And in 2016, he was invited to join the many members of Preservation Hall.
“Currently there are about 60 members in the band, but not all of us play all the time,” Lewis says. “Different members play on different nights and one band is spinning. This one is called the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and this is the one that audiences in Philadelphia will hear on November 11.
“We usually tour a lot,” Lewis continues. “But when I’m home, I usually play two nights a week.” (The band is currently touring to celebrate the Hall’s 60th anniversary.)
Founded in 1961 by tuba player Alan Jaffe, PHJB was formed to preserve the city’s priceless musical heritage and give veteran musicians a place to play. Now led by Jaffe’s son, tuba player Ben Jaffe, the group showcases a wealth of musical talent in the city.
“And tours are part of our ritual,” reveals Ben Jaffe. “It’s our tradition. When my parents started touring with the band in the early 60s, they brought something most people didn’t even know existed to stages around the world. It was this wonderful revelation to people that something so beautiful could even exist. And that’s part of our mission: to go out into the world and make that experience accessible to people.
Today, their music seems to appeal to people of all ages. Lewis says, “While I would say our audience is mostly older people, every once in a while we look up and see younger faces. And I think if the younger kids come to hear us, they’ll have a really good time.
In fact, so many people heard them and had a great time, that in 2018 Preservation Hall received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the SFJAZZ Gala. It was obviously well deserved.