Preservation Hall links past with the present

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With many people having left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, there was a fear that the traditional sound of this musical mecca might be lost forever. Fortunately, there is at least one place where the city's oldest music traditions not only live on but are being passed on to a new generation.

On St. Peter Street in the Crescent City's French Quarter is Preservation Hall, home of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, purveyors of what is billed as the authentic sound of New Orleans.

Preservation Hall, true to its name, has maintained the same look and feel since it was opened as a performance venue in 1961 by the late Allan Jaffe, a tuba player in the jazz band.

Before that time, the building, which dates back to 1750, had served as a private residence, tavern/inn, photo studio and art gallery. Elements of all of those incarnations still linger in Preservation Hall.

Other than the nightly cover charge, which usually ranges from $8 to $15, very little has changed at Preservation Hall since it was founded, from the original low benches to the worn floorboards.

A legacy lives on

In order to ensure that the spirit of this veritable institution is not lost, Ben Jaffe, Allan's son, this summer released "Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions," a limited-edition box set featuring a CD of he Preservation Hall Jazz Band's music and a DVD of the group's history.

There are old and new recordings, and a few tracks were reproduced to combine old and new. Original, previously unreleased recordings by Allan Jaffe were on tapes salvaged by his son from the flooded Sea-Saint Studios.

For collectors, each box set contains Preservation Hall memorabilia accumulated over the years, such as reproductions of original photos that were also rescued from Katrina debris.

"When we came back, we decided we had to put it out to tell the world what Preservation Hall is all about," said Laura Belinda Tennyson, president of Lura Belle Productions. Tennyson has been assisting Preservation Hall's public relations effort since Katrina.

In addition to looking back, Jaffe, who serves as Preservation Hall's artistic director, has been looking to the future, making efforts to attract young people to the historical venue.

Recent efforts have included a remix album of traditional New Orleans jazz that was put together with the help of DJ King Britt; a recent series of late-night shows called "Midnight Preserves," which featured contemporary musicians such as Jon Cleary and Charlie Hunter; and even a Preservation Hall Jazz Band music video.

"These projects are an extension of what Preservation Hall does," Jaffe said.

As the group tours extensively, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is not always in residence.

Even so, the Hall is usually open, serving as a home to the New Birth Brass Band and Lyle Henderson, who is known as New Orleans' "Prince of Gospel."

For more information on Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, visit www.preservationhall.com or call (504) 522-2841.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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