Ben Jaffe is the creative director and tuba player for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He was born into the legacy of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band—his parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded Preservation Hall in the 1960s as a way to keep New Orleans music alive. And the tradition has thrived.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays all over the world year-round, and will be coming to Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 9 at 8 p.m. I caught up with Jaffe at the tail end of Jazz Fest, where the band played to their hometown of New Orleans.
You’re coming off a series of performances at Jazz Fest and I imagine that energy is still buzzing in you. How was it?
Jazz Fest is a very special event, near and dear to all of our hearts. It’s so much more than a music festival. It’s always incredible to play to the home team, so to speak. To have your community come out and see you. It always feels great.
As the director and member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, you’re a part of a legacy of jazz musicians with a connection to the history of jazz. Do you think about that a lot or are you just playing music most of the time?
There’s a time, when you’re standing onstage, when you are just playing music. But one of my big responsibilities as Creative Director of Preservation Hall is to consider the band’s responsibility and role in our community. It’s something I take very seriously: Making sure that our community in New Orleans is proud of what we do. We are members of the New Orleans community and every musician in the band comes from a musical family whose parents and grandparents were musicians. We wear that as a badge of honor and we want to celebrate our past, present and future as we play music.
What’s unique about traditional New Orleans music?
The thing I like to focus on is our beginnings, and the beginning of jazz. Today we look at jazz and it’s performed in concert halls and theaters and nightclubs. It’s part of American music history. A hundred years ago when jazz was emerging, it was considered by many to be the devil’s music. It was treated the way people talk about Miley Cyrus today: it was undermining the moral fiber of the country. So to see where jazz is today and the respect people give it is amazing to me. Something we focus on as well is this idea that jazz in New Orleans is still connected to its roots. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. It’s where it came into being. We are the Louis Armstrongs, the Jelly Roll Mortons.
How do past and present combine in your music?
We’ve grown up with this heritage. Members of our band have performed with Louis Armstrong. We are the continuation of that tradition. That’s what is challenging for people to understand about New Orleans. Things don’t just fall from the sky in New Orleans. They evolve organically. Our musical tradition at Preservation Hall is an evolution from the roots of American music. You hear Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and all the others who influenced us along the way. The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, that’s a part of our history as well. We can only be true to ourselves when we acknowledge those influences.
Why is touring an important part of what you do?
It gives us an opportunity to bring our music to audiences all over the world. It’s a blessing.
What can people look forward to seeing, hearing and feeling at your upcoming show at Westhampton Beach?
Our music is New Orleans music, evolved from American dance music. This was music people danced to. It’s upbeat, joyous, and reflective. It’s the music we mourn to, the music we celebrate life to.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $95, $85 and $75. Go to whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.