Whether it’s at a massive festival like Bonnaroo or at a small club, the eight members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band quite simply bring it. And they’ll be bringing their massive talents to the Elkhart Jazz Festival next week.
Theirs is a story that mirrors their hometown: New Orleans. Both steeped in history. Both forever changed by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Ben Jaffe plays the sousaphone and bass in Preservation Hall. He also serves as creative director. The name of the band comes from the actual Preservation Hall opened in 1961. Jaffe’s parents, transplants to the Crescent City, helped get the place started. Jaffe now helps guide the direction that the band goes.
Preservation Hall are both critical darlings and favorites of other musicians. They’ve played with indie rock groups, including My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and The Black Keys. Tom Waits, Pete Seeger and Dr. John, to name a few, have also played on their records.
But just nine years ago, the fate of the band was very much in question.
“It’s interesting how it all started,” Jaffe explained in a recent phone interview. “Shortly after Hurricane Katrina I reconvened the band in Manhattan. It was the first time we had all been together since the storm. Most of the guys showed up in New York without instruments ‘cause they had ended up under water. Some had no clothes. Our trumpet player showed up with nothing but what he was wearing. And that had been given to him by Red Cross.”
Seven of the eight band members had lost their homes.
“We were living through a thing still on TV,” Jaffe said. “But we began to figure out what our next move was.”
A benefit concert for those affected by Hurricane Katrina around that time was held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. There Jaffe and the rest of the band met the likes of Dave Matthews, Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Waits.