Growing up in
New Orleans as the son of the man who turned a French Quarter art gallery into
one of the longest-running and most-successful music venues in the world—
Preservation Hall—Jewish tuba player Ben Jaffe had jazz running through his
veins from a very early age.
Jaffe recalls in an interview with JNS.org that
spending time during his childhood with the legendary likes of Allen Toussaint,
Pete Seeger, and the Creole duo of Billie and De De Pierce was like “going to
your grandparents’ house and hearing them speak Yiddish.”
father Allan’s passing in 1987 and the near destruction of his home and his
state-of-the-art recording studio during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jaffe
continues to perform and promote his beloved Jazz in New Orleans and around the
As he prepares to release a Preservation Hall Jazz Band 50th anniversary
box set on the Columbia/Legacy label in September, Jaffe found a few moments to
reflect on his musical life thus far.
“I grew up around Preservation
Hall,” Jaffe explains, reminiscing about days and nights spent with his father
and local legends like the Humphrey Brothers, Walter Payton (father of Nicholas)
and others. “If I wasn’t at home, I was at Preservation Hall two blocks
When asked if he has any particular memories of his days in the
Hall, Jaffe smiles and says, “Memories? My whole childhood is one big fairytale
In addition collaborating with members of his own band and their
musical predecessors, Jaffe was privileged to go on gigs and tours with some of
New Orleans’ (and the world’s) greatest creative powers.
“I was blessed to grow
up around an incredible community of musicians and artists,” he says. In
addition to having the sound of Yiddish—the “mamaloshen”—in his ear, Ben grew up
at the knee of his tuba-playing father.
“I had the sound of bass in my
[head] long before I started playing music,” explains the bass and tuba player
who began playing at age 6 and performed in his first Mardi Gras parade with his
father at 9.
When asked what else might have led him to his musical choices,
Jaffe explains that he believes people “gravitate to instruments that reflect
Perhaps this is why Jaffe has been able to remain so
grounded despite the highs of fame and the lows of sadness that have befallen
his family, his city, and his genre in recent years. In addition to mourning his
father and his studio (which housed many of the Hall’s archives, some of which
were thankfully saved and preserved on the new box set), Jaffe lost many friends
in Katrina and has also seen how jazz as a whole has been slowly dying as clubs
continue to close and radio stations continue to cut their jazz programming.
That is why he continues to work so hard to maintain and preserve not only the
legacy of the Hall (which, as its name attests, was created as a means of
preserving the original sound of New Orleans Jazz), but also of the
While Katrina devastated much of his physical home, Jaffe is almost
thankful for the hurricane that revealed the true heart and soul of the Crescent
City. “I never knew how strong of a community we have in New Orleans until
Hurricane Katrina,” he says, noting that, as the Hall has gone, so too has the
city. “Preservation Hall is a reflection of New Orleans,” he suggests.
the traditions of the Hall and of the city go so deep and stretch back so far,
Jaffe sees it not only as a matter of pride, but as one of “responsibility” to
care for and nourish his traditions and those of the music on which he and his
family (immediate and far extended) was raised.
That is why, 50 years on,
Jaffe gives the same heart and soul to the Hall and the music that his father
and his many musical friends have and continue to give. “I want to pass on the
tradition the older generation and the generations that came before me passed to
me,” Jaffe says. “It’s important to me to pass on the musical traditions that I
inherited. That’s the greatest gift in the world.”
astonished by what the Hall and its legendary “house band” have meant to his
city and the world. “It’s amazing how much joy the band has brought into the
world,” he observes. “We are better people because of Preservation