Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Music
The musicians in the groups have varied during the years since the founding of the hall in the early 1960s. Bands of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform at Preservation Hall on 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, and tour around the world for more than 150 days a year.
The early years - 1960s
The popularity of traditional New Orleans jazz had waned leading up to the 1960s, putting many musicians out of work. There were few jazz connoisseurs actively capturing the traditions of New Orleans jazz during this time. New Orleans Jazz historian William "Bill" Russell led the traditional jazz revival through his persistent documenting and recording. When Allan and Sandra Jaffe transformed the 726 venue into Preservation Hall in 1961, they made it a point to integrate and highlight jazz musicians who were present during the birth of jazz through hosting nightly performances. These musicians included George Lewis, and "Sweet" Emma Barrett, who led bands under their own names.
The nightly jazz concerts at Preservation Hall gathered a significant amount of press interest from its inception. As time went on, Allan believed the success of both the Hall and its mission of preservation would require these bands to tour, and in 1963, he organized the newly minted Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was essentially the Kid Thomas Band (Kid Thomas Valentine, George Lewis, Louis Nelson, Emanuel Paul, Joe James, Joe “Twat” Butler, and Sammy Penn). Their first string of dates were set in the midwest and included a performance at the Guthrie Theater, a venue that future Preservation Hall Jazz Bands would later record at.
The aftermath of Kid Thomas’ tour sparked interest in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the rediscovery of New Orleans music began stretching beyond the United States. International interest in traditional New Orleans jazz led to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s second tour to Japan in 1964. The Japan tour featured the George Lewis Band.
During that same year, Allan sent Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the Guthrie Theater to record a live performance. The subsequent recording turned into The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s first record, Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Later Paul Barbarin and his band was a regular at Preservation Hall with Lester Santiago, John Brunious and others.
In 1967, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed at a Bill Graham production in San Francisco, CA, which featured The Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Steppenwolf (band). This Preservation Hall Jazz Band performance was led by Billie and De De Pierce and Their Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The introduction of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to mainstream music festivals would prove to be only the beginning in future collaborations, as well as touring festival circuits.
1970s – Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Duke Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band
Sweet Emma Barrett’s health began to decline in the 1970s, which forced her to step away from the touring circuit. Her leadership position was replaced by brothers, Percy Humphrey (trumpet) and Willie Humphrey (clarinet). The new Preservation Hall Jazz Band lineup included the Humphrey Brothers, Frank Demond (trombone), James Prevost (bass), James "Sing" Miller (piano), Cie Frazier (drums), Jim Robinson (trombone), Narvin Kimball (banjo), and Allan Jaffe (tuba).
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of the touring members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band were recruited by Harold ‘Duke’ Dejan to join Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band. This New Orleans based brass band became not only a staple at Preservation Hall, but also influenced the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and future Preservation Hall musicians.
Dejan’s regular sidemen included the Andy Anderson (trumpet), Milton Batiste (trumpet), and Kid Sheik Cola (trumpet), Paul Crawford (trombone) and Gerald Joseph (trombone), Emanuel Paul (tenor saxophone), Andrew Jefferson (snare), and bass drummers John Smith, Henry “Booker T” Glass, and Glass’s son Nowell “Papa” Glass. Cag Cagnolatti, Kid Thomas Valentine, Louis Nelson, Louis Cottrell, Jr., Cié Frazier, Emanuel Sayles, and Allan Jaffe on performing Tuba were among those who played with the group. Olympia Among the band’s later recordings is the album Here Come da Great Olympia Band (Kernfeld, Schafer).
In 1977, Preservation Hall’s Allan Jaffe teamed up with Arthur Hall and his Afro-American Dance Ensemble to release Fat Tuesday and All That Jazz! A Mardi Gras Dance Musical. The world premiere of the dance musical was presented on February 19, 1977, and was followed by a tour throughout the United States.
Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band was featured in Fat Tuesday and All That Jazz, in addition to the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1980s/90s – passing of the greats; continuing a tradition
"As many as 20 different bands, drawn from a pool of about 150 local musicians, had played at Preservation Hall in the 1960s, but by 1999 virtually all of the older generation of musicians had died and the band members were a mixture of younger African-American players and white musicians from overseas. Most notable among the former were Michael White (ii), Wendell Brunious (who gradually took over the leadership of Valentine’s band in the elder trumpeter’s final years, as well as the touring band), Freddie Lonzo, and the tuba player Walter Payton; Europeans included the Swedish pianist Lars Edegran, the English trumpeter Clive Wilson, Orange Kellin, and Jacques Gauthé" (Hazeldine, Kernfeld).
In 1987, Allan Jaffe died due to cancer. Allan’s son, Ben Jaffe, assumed his father’s position as Director of Preservation Hall and management of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band after graduating from Oberlin College in 1993. Ben also began touring with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, playing upright bass and tuba. He also began to instill the educational initiatives that his father developed.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band continued to tour nationally, internationally, and at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. During this time, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was led by trumpet player, Wendell Brunious. Wendell was later replaced by his older brother, John Brunious.
In 2006, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was awarded the 2006 National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence. The award was presented to creative director of Preservation Hall, Benjamin Jaffe and co-founder of Preservation Hall, Sandra Jaffe, who accepted the award from President and Mrs. Laura Bush in an Oval Office ceremony on November 9, 2006. The citations read: “With enormous talent and pride, this ageless ensemble has toured the world displaying the unbreakable spirit of New Orleans and sharing the joy of New Orleans jazz with us all.”
Nearing Preservation Hall’s 45th anniversary, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band begins exploring collaborations with artist of differing genres and artistic disciplines. Examples of collaborations are seen in the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grammy Award-winning record Down in New Orleans, which features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on several tracks. New Orleans rock cabaret act The New Orleans Bingo! Show supported the touring band during their 45th anniversary.
In 2010, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band released Preservation: An Album to Benefit the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program. The album includes traditional standards and featured guest vocalists on each track. Guest artists include: Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, Pete Seeger, Dr. John, Jim James, The Del McCoury Band and many more.