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Photo by Clint Maedgen
Since 1961, a little more than 50 years, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band — in all its many iterations — has been bringing infectious New Orleans style music to kings and queens, Blacks and Whites, young and old — at festivals and concerts of all kinds.
This Sunday, they’ll be at the Playboy Jazz Festival. And though director Ben Jaffe — whose parents Allan and Sandra founded the group and named it after that venue in the heart of the French Quarter — says the band can’t claim to have initiated the second line tradition that’s marked every Playboy for the last 10 years, there’s no doubt that all will raise their umbrellas or white handkerchiefs in a joyous celebration of that occasion.
The PHJB came to major prominence, says Jaffe the younger, in 1963 when they began touring. In the early days, founding members jammed with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden and Bunk Johnson. Jaffe grew up in the French Quarter, surrounded by legends and traditions and says that until nearly his adulthood, he thought the city’s profoundly rich musical heritage was how everybody grew up, i.e., with an intense love of and appreciation for the art form of New Orleans jazz.
“It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the fascination,” he explained.
Of course, anyone who’s been to the Crescent City knows that nobody parties heartier than New Orleaneans. Wherever the band goes, the members spread their mission of nurturing and perpetuating the art of New Orleans jazz — whether it’s the entire band, or a few members of the band — like father and son Jaffe, who’ve played side by side in many a brass band.
PHJB looks to survive via their latest album, which benefits the group’s music outreach program.
Despite the band’s and its members’ ages, the band stays young and fresh by honoring its past and has, as tuba player Jaffe says, “an obligation to themselves and their audiences” to keep growing, lest it become a “museum piece.” The group constantly strives to “find new ways to … make people aware that they [still] exist,” making a “concerted effort to bring [our]to our music a broader message of celebration of joy, respect, dignity …”
And their latest album benefits the group’s music outreach program.
In other words, PHJB takes its music “very, very seriously,” says Jaffe. They’ve played Royce Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. But nothing says summertime party like the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.
And as the saying goes, “Ain’t no party like a PHJB [at the Playboy] party ‘cause a PHJB party don’t stop”!