Grain Audio

CULTURE:Preservation Hall Jazz Band at The Sinclair, Boston

On the afternoon of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s November 19th show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Grain Audio spoke with Ben Jaffe. 

Ben:  “I grew up in the heart of the French Quarter. I grew up literally a block from Preservation Hall. I spent most of my childhood there, most of my life, at Preservation Hall. I can't even recall the first time I heard music. Even if we wanted to get away from music it was hopeless. Because we were surrounded. Everywhere there was music. It’s amazing because New Orleans is still like that today. We look at music as part of our identity. It's what makes us whole.


“In New Orleans it's not about the notes. It's not about being able to play a million notes at a hundred miles an hour. It's about being able to play at a person's funeral when they pass away. And it's about being able to perform a hymn at a memorial service. It's about being able to carry a tuba for three hours on Mardi Gras day. It's about bringing people together. Everybody in New Orleans is a musician . Certain people get to make it a career. People, they happen off Bourbon Street and they stumble into of Preservation Hall for the first time. It’s this little tiny building. There’s nothing to it. There are no speakers. There are no microphones. There’s no air conditioning and no heating. There is no water. It's literally a little tiny room for about 80 people to squeeze into. It is so unpretentious. It is pure.


“When you grow up with acoustic music, you learn a deep, deep appreciation for the natural sound and beauty of the instrument. That's what you grow up with in New Orleans. You grow up with the instrument, you grow up with the drums, you grow up with the trumpet, you grow up with the clarinet, the saxophone and the tuba. You're used to hearing the air passing through the horn, that's what you hear . You actually hear it… when you hear that note you're actually hearing air.


“When you put your life and your entire soul into music, into playing music, into recording music, you want everything else around you to be off that quality . When you press play and you turn up the volume, you want the person who made those headphones, you want the person who made that speaker, to have cared as much about your music as you do. Because it's our life. It's our creation. It’s our baby. And it is something we want other people to experience. I can play the hell out of a tuba but I don’t know the first thing about building a speaker. I don't know the first thing about that. That's why you have these partners in life that you rely on to translate what you do to this other experience. The speakers, your playback devices, these are the things we rely on not just for ourselves to listen to music but for our fans to listen to music.”


And listen we did, later that evening.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band gave an incredible show! I saw the band's 50th anniversary show in January 2012 at Carnegie Hall in New York from sixth row center and it was amazing, but there was something in the energy of the audience that seemed to have been caused by that sense of partnership Ben mentioned. Between the band, the venue, and the sponsor, we knew they cared that we would have the best possible experience.


Preservation Hall released their first album of original music this year and it's a triumph! They opened the set with "Sugar Plum" from the new album, "That's It!" What a terrific number that truly showcases their talent. From there, the set included both old favorites and other new material.

One of my favorites is "St. James' Infirmary Blues" and this night's version blew my mind! They performed two different versions of it, the first sung by Mark Braud, the trumpet player, and the second sung by Clint Maedgen, the saxophonist.  I've seen a lot of musicians perform this song, but this was the best.


All the members of the band engaged us with their vocals as well as their instrumental solos - Charlie Gabriel on clarinet and saxophone, Ben Jaffe on tuba and cowbell (more cowbell please), Rickie Monie on piano, Joseph Lastie Jr. on drums, Freddie Lonzo on trombone, and Ronell Johnson on tuba.

Image by: Suze Uttal

Even though it's one of their new songs, they had the audience singing along with "Rattlin' Bones." "Tootie Ma" was another highlight for me.


See Preservation Hall Jazz Band on this tour if you can. Or see them in New Orleans at Preservation Hall, where I first saw them in 1993 (not with the same members, though). Wherever you see them, you won't be disappointed.


And listen to them at home through a Grain Audio product - you can hear the care with which the band plays music meld with the care with which the company makes its products.