When Diana told him she had plans to visit Preservation Hall for a late show one evening, Amos insisted on meeting her there. He walked over from his house and joined her in the line that snaked down St. Peter Street. Once inside, they sat on the floor cushions in the very front, listening to traditional jazz played by some of the finest musicians Diana had ever heard. When she whispered that her back was bothering her a little, Amos moved closer so that she could lean against him. He put an arm around her waist and she settled in with a sigh. She was close enough now that Amos could smell her perfume, which was subtle but intoxicating. He recognized it as a signature scent from a French Quarter perfumer on Chartres Street; it was perfect for her. And it made him realize how much he wanted to make love to the woman whose head rested on his shoulder. — From my novel, Bayou Fire.
Preservation Hall was established by Arnold and Sandra Jaffe in 1961. Its stated purpose is to preserve, perpetuate, and protect traditional New Orleans Jazz. The Jaffes got the idea to start the hall from talking to several local musicians in Jackson Square, many of whom were elderly contemporaries of greats like Buddy Bolden and other early players. They took over a nightly jazz “rehearsal session” series from gallery owner Larry Borenstein, and thus Preservation Hall was born.
Today, the Jaffe’s son, Ben, is the leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The Hall hosts three shows seven nights per week, and who you see is up in the air. The night I attended, it was trumpeter Leroy Jones and the Preservation Hall Jazz Masters. I bought one of the “show-off seats,” which meant that it was reserved ahead of time. Otherwise, you can just show up and get in the line (for about a third of the price) and take your chances on general admission. No photos are allowed in the Hall while the band is playing, but at least you can see the set-up.
Just this past Saturday, I saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in a town near me, as they are touring to support their new album, “So It Is.” They truly are some of the finest musicians you’ll ever hear.
Here is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band doing Kid Ory‘s “Tailgate Ramble.” You’ll want to turn the sound up to hear Charlie Gabriel’s vocals; the Hall is strictly acoustic, with no microphones. Gabriel is 85 years young and still performing, although he no longer goes on the road with the band.
(Photographs of Preservation Hall by the author.)