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Preservation Hall Jazz Band Travel the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways

When you visit New Orleans, it quickly becomes evident that this city full of vibrant culture is unlike any other. There’s beauty, intrigue, adventure and tradition awaiting behind every corner. As far as music goes – and that’s a big part of the culture – few emit as much musical legacy and tradition than Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Preservation Hall. The band and hall, which were founded in the early ’60s, played a key role in helping revitalize the jazz form in New Orleans and bolster the New Orleans music scene in general. Despite a number of lineup changes over the years, the band hasn’t lost a beat. They’ve remained steadfast with a youthful vigor and desire to keep pushing their musical limits. The hall that they call home – located at 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter – is a musical beacon for residents of New Orleans and any curious outsider visitor. It’s one place in New Orleans where everyone is welcome to play, even dating back during segregation. It’s become an important institution in the city and not even Hurricane Katrina could keep it down for long.

That unwavering desire to keep going has been passed down, with each generation taking up the Preservation Hall Jazz Band mantle. The current band leader, Ben Jaffe, has kept the band—which his parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded—going strong with a desire to keep its tradition and legacy shining brightly into the future. Jaffe currently acts as the band and hall’s Creative Director and plays upright bass and tuba. He’s lived his whole life surrounded by the vibrant musical culture and talented musicians of New Orleans’ French Quarter. He went to college at Oberlin College in Ohio but returned after graduating in 1993 to play in the band and take over the role that his father had until his death six years earlier. He has kept his parent’s legacy of giving back to the community alive by being part of a number of projects including the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund.

The younger Jaffe has a strong passion for collaboration and is willing to collaborate with anyone, both young or old. In 2013 the band recorded their latest album That’s It! with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James co-producing. More recently, the band contributed to a song with rockers the Foo Fighters for their nation-spanning 2014 album Sonic Highways. We caught up with Jaffe last year to talk about working with the Foo Fighters and the connecting power of collaboration.

First of all, how did this collaboration with the Foo Fighters begin?

I got a phone call from our record label which put us in touch with somebody at the Foo Fighters camp because they were researching places to record in New Orleans. And I said “Sure, have them call me.” And they called and when the conversation started Dave was interested in finding a studio that had some history and some place connected to the music of New Orleans. And I suggested to him, I was like “If you really want to record here you should record at Preservation Hall.” It’s where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band does all of its recordings. And he couldn’t even believe that it was an option, think that we would even allow that to happen. He flipped. He was like “That’s absolutely where we want to do it, thank you!” And that’s how it all came together. A couple phone calls.

Were you familiar with their music beforehand?

Yeah, I am. I go back to Nirvana. I was just getting out of college and that was part of my scene. I’m an anomaly. I grew up in this jazz environment completely unique to itself. My father was in Preservation Hall Jazz Band and him and mom actually established Preservation Hall in 1961. So we grew up a block from Preservation Hall. I had all the musical experience before I ever got into rock and roll and [Led] Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I was into Preservation Hall and marching bands, brass bands and Mardi Gras music and funeral music, that was my scene. And then I discovered popular music in college and high school. So I knew them. But a lot of the older members of the Preservation Hall Band had never heard of the Foo Fighters before.

How did the collaboration go? Were you together or separate recording with them?

What’s amazing about this recording, is that Dave told me that he had never worked with horns before, that they had never had horns on any tracks that they had before. It was really interesting. He thought it would be disrespectful not to have us play on the track with him. So it was really cool when all the guys from the Preservation Hall Band said “This is awesome. We totally want to do it.” It was something they were excited to do. It was a really cool moment for both bands. And it was really fun for me.

When we knew this project was going to happen it was really fun for me to introduce the older members of Preservation Hall Band to this whole musical world that is a big part of my life but is completely unknown to them. That’s part of the beauty of collaboration is that people get to learn about the other person and take away something positive. Those are the best collaborations.

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