Preservation Hall Jazz Band
There are few instances when a place devoted to creativity, a tangible human-made structure, becomes synonymous with the soul of the art form it houses. The uniquely American expression now known as jazz has its origins in New Orleans’ African-American community, and today, the living heart of this musical culture resides in the French Quarter within the hallowed walls of Preservation Hall, where it has been perpetuated for over five decades.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB) is a quintessential New Orleans institution that embodies the tradition of Crescent City music and its joie de vivre. Founded in the early 1960s by tuba player Allan Jaffe, the PHJB instantly attracted players linked to the glory days of the 1920s. The band has since performed all the world, sharing the raucous, soulful sound of traditional New Orleans jazz. After the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been a rock upon which New Orleans has been building itself anew. Even as the floodwaters retreated, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band persevered in its mission, touring around the nation, sharing the raucous, soulful sound of traditional New Orleans jazz.
Now run by Jaffe’s son, tuba player Ben Jaffe, the group features a multigenerational wealth of New Orleans talent, including veteran saxophonist Charlie Gabriel, versatile singer and instrumentalist Clint Maedgen, and trombonist Ronell Johnson, who joined the band in 2012. In its performances, the band easily hops from era to era. It could work like a rhythm-and-blues horn section or a tightly arranged little big band if need be, but it could also switch back into the polyphonic glories of vintage New Orleans jazz, in which nearly every instrument seems to improvise around the tune at the same time.
PHJB's new release, So It Is, celebrates the contributions of new members Walter Harris, Branden Lewis and Kyle Roussel and was inspired by the vitality and reinvigorated spirit of their hometown after the ravages of Katrina. The album taps into a sonic continuum that stretches back to the city’s Afro-Cuban roots, through its common ancestry with the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the Fire Music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, and forward to cutting-edge artists with whom the PHJB have shared festival stages from Coachella to Newport, including legends like Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead and modern giants like My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and the Black Keys.