The Preservation Hall Jazz Band takes the Spoleto stage for the first time, after the pandemic
Live music is often seen as an antidote to public distress in times of crisis. With the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the public can finally stop worrying a little – and start swaying.
On May 28, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will finally perform in front of the crowds at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA. This performance will be the first time the septet has performed in public since before the pandemic.
Founded by musician Alan Jaffe in 1961, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is dedicated to supporting the art of New Orleans jazz. Currently led by Alan’s son Ben Jaffe, the group continues to share their message across the world after 60 years, winning the National Medal of Arts in 2006 and the 2013 NAACP Image Award.
In 2014, the group made an appearance on the Foo Fighters eighth studio album and the HBO documentary series, Sonic highways, and starred in his own documentary, A snorkel in Cuba, in 2018.
Like most other musical groups, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been hit hard by the pandemic. The group had to close the doors of its Preservation Hall in New Orleans. This isn’t the first time Preservation Hall has been closed in response to a crisis, as Hurricane Katrina forced the foundation to do so in 2005.
But, what makes the current crisis so much more damaging to the band is the inability to tour and play concerts. As the band’s creative director, Ben Jaffe said he is dedicated to supporting the band’s musicians and their families.
“Our first concern is to support the artist and, of course, the safety and well-being of our audience,” Jaffe told the City paper during a telephone interview. “Many members of our community are seniors. It was very important for us to take extra precautions during this time. “
Jaffe added that the pandemic had been particularly devastating for New Orleans, a city known to thrive on its traditions through tourism. Since the 19th century, its rich cultural identity has made it a hotbed for festivals, fine dining and live music.
“We are all musicians born and raised in New Orleans, so our point of reference is very unique and particular,” he said. “There isn’t a city in this country, if not in the world, that has a musical community and the kind of musical culture that we have in New Orleans.”
The group even plays music at funerals in New Orleans.
“It’s a way for us to celebrate ancestral history, the source of music,” Jaffe said.
Fourteen months after Preservation Hall closed, the band is eager to finally return to the stage in Charleston. This performance will be their first at Spoleto, and they are happy to have another opportunity to play.
“We can’t wait to be together as a band again, as a family unit making music,” Jaffe said. “We truly believe this is our purpose in life … to share the joy and the healing power of music.”
For Jaffe, the real goals of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are not preservationists, but protectors of New Orleans jazz tradition.
“We are much more concerned with protecting the tradition and protecting the people and communities that allow this beautiful tradition to flourish,” he said. “This is really what we do.”