Since 1961 the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been keeping the tradition of boisterous New Orleans jazz alive, one boogie-fortified, horn-blaring performance at a time.
One suspects that the Preservation gentlemen are constantly coming up with excuses to throw a party, but their current blowout seems especially justified. On Jan. 7 the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will celebrate their 50th "Golden" Anniversary with a performance at Carnegie Hall that's apparently several years in the making.
"I started thinking about the anniversary shortly after we celebrated our 45th Anniversary back in 2006," says Ben Jaffe, creative director and tuba player. "I've been laying down the groundwork for the show for almost 18 months. Ultimately, I want the evening to be a memorable night of music."
The Jazz Band started as a touring outlet for the group of musicians that gathered at New Orleans Preservation Hall, an unretouched, un-air conditioned building which has been around since 1812 and has previously served as a tavern and photo gallery. Jaffe's parents, Allan and Sandra, founded the band 50 years ago, and he credits Preservation's longevity to not mucking up a good thing.
"We're like a pot of red beans and rice. No matter what day of the week, no matter how many times you've eaten them... they're always delicious when the right person is cooking them," he says. "Preservation Hall, no matter where we travel in the world, we connect with our audiences. I don't know exactly what it is, but people universally can't sit still when we play. They have to move or dance or bounce or sing. That's something you still find in New Orleans today, people dance to jazz."
The Hall's brand of rice and beans has proven to be quiet durable and beloved.
For the Carnegie performance the Band will be joined by a wide spectrum of guests including My Morning Jacket, Mos Def, Allen Toussaint, Trey McIntyre Project, Steve Earle, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Del McCoury Band, Trombone Shorty, GIVERS, Allen Toussaint, Blind Boys of Alabama, Tao Seeger and even actor Ed Helms.
"We have lots of friends who play lots of styles of music, the whole spectrum. I think that's one of the amazing about what we do. We all share a love, respect and deep appreciation for New Orleans music and culture," says Jaffe. "To me, it doesn't seem that strange. If Mos Def were alive 100 years ago, he'd be singing with Jelly Roll Morton! Artists have an honest respect for Preservation Hall. There aren't that many, if any, institutions to compare Preservation Hall to. We are directly connected to the first days of jazz."
The "Golden" 50th Anniversary show (taking place in their 51st year, technically, but let's not pick nits) is a big undertaking for Jaffe, but he says it's only the start of a year-long celebration.
"We have a whole year's worth of projects on the table. We recently opened a retrospective exhibit in New Orleans titled 'Preservation Hall at 50.' We are going to be recording this year as well as touring the country and the world," he says.