Friday, January 21st 2022   |

Jazz Fest Shabbat spotlights Preservation Hall Jazz Band

By ALAN SMASON

It’s taken more than two years for a favorable confluence to occur so that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band can headline this year’s 24th annual Touro Synagogue Jazz Fest Shabbat on Friday, April 24.

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Tuba player and Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe will play with Preservation Hall Jazz Band as the featured stars at this year’s Jazz Fest Shabbat at Touro Synagogue. (Photo courtesy Preservation Hall)

“We’ve had an open-ended invitation to do this for the last two years,” admits Preservation Hall Jazz Band leader Ben Jaffe. “It’s just our schedule hasn’t allowed us to do it, to be free enough and to coincide with the service.”

The world famous traditional jazz ensemble founded by Jaffe’s father of blessed memory, Allan Jaffe, is always in high demand during the period of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In addition to the concert events, their schedule has to expand so as to include rehearsal times too.

“We prioritized the service because they’ve been after us for a while,” Jaffe explained. “We actually booked this show right after Jazz Fest last year.”

Following the legacy of another Jewish lover of jazz, Larry Borenstein, Jaffe’s mother Sandra and her husband Allan took over the operation of the business at 726 St. Peter Street in 1961 that today bears the name Preservation Hall. Allan Jaffe had played tuba with the group until his death from cancer in 1987.

Their son Ben, now 44,  has lived in the building for most of his life and has become a formidable upright bass and tuba player in his own right, holding his own with highly regarded jazz standard bearers Mark Braud, Charlie Gabriel, Freddie Lonzo, Clint Maedgen and Joe Lastie, Jr.

A graduate of the renowned music conservatory at Oberlin College, Ben Jaffe took over the reins of the venue as creative director and began touring with the Sony Records recording artists in 1993.

Just a couple of years earlier in 1991, the Touro Synagogue Jazz Fest Shabbat began as the brainchild of then-Cantor Steven Dubov of blessed memory. “I’ve seen it grow over the years,” says Jaffe. “Many of the musicians that play at Preservation Hall have performed at this event. It’s become as much a part of Jazz Fest as Jazz Fest itself. It’s not a new tradition anymore.”

Getting set to oversee his very first Jazz Fest Shabbat is Touro’s freshman Cantor David Mintz, whose job it is to integrate with the guest stars as well as with longtime participants, the Panorama Jazz Band and the Touro Synagogue Choir under the direction of music director Terry Maddox.

“We’ve been rehearsing for several months leading up to this,” says Mintz, who has also enjoyed the working relationship the temple has with Panorama and their frontman Ben Schenk.

“We’re really happy that this partnership,” he continues. “They also play with us for our Simchat Torah celebration in the fall.”

Fortunately, Mintz has reviewed videos of past Jazz Fest Shabbats, so he feels he understands how the combination concert and prayer service will go. “Musically, we’ll draw from that tradition, but bring some of my own influences as well,” he explains.

Two new works have been commissioned for this year’s Jazz Fest Shabbat by composer and arranger Toby Singer. “He’s not just an experienced composer and arranger, but he also has a background in Jewish music as well,” Mintz adds.

Also new this year is the fact that the entire service and celebration, which has been broadcast over WWOZ-FM (90.7 MhZ) will also be streamed over the Internet. This should ensure an even bigger audience than can possibly be contained within the massive sanctuary at 4238 St. Charles Avenue.

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Allan and Sandra Jaffe with son Ben. (Photo courtesy Preservation Hall)

Jaffe sees this year’s  Jazz Fest Shabbat as bringing together important values he cherishes. “What’s interesting is what Preservation Hall brings to the service, which  is the idea of tradition and family legacy,” he points out.

“The musicians who comprise the Preservation Hall band come from very big and important New Orleans musical families. That is something that is still very important  to our city,” Jaffe states. “Many of the traditions we embrace date back over a hundred years. That’s something I’ve  come to understand and something my father appreciated, honored and respected.”

Jaffe recalls his Bar Mitzvah at the former Chevra Thilim synagogue as having been a veritable who’s who in traditional jazz players. “I probably had one of the most diverse Bar Mitzvahs ever attended for  services in New Orleans,” he contends.

The younger Jaffe thinks that his father would have been especially honored and excited to have the Preservation Hall Jazz Band take part in this year’s Jazz Fest Shabbat. Both sets of grandparents hailed from Pennsylvania from fairly observant, but small Jewish communities. When the Jaffes moved to New Orleans, it was important they maintain their Jewish heritage.

“My dad had a respect for the older members of the synagogue,” Jaffe reflects. “I think he saw his father in them.”

Sandra Jaffe is also proud to have her son and the band play at Jazz Fest Shabbat. “It’s very meaningful to her that we’re participating,” says her son. “In very many ways it’s a continuation of my parents’ vision of unifying communities through music.”

The cantor feels excitement building towards the event. ” This Jazz Fest Shabbat that Touro is a truly special event,” says Mintz.  “I haven’t experienced it yet, but everything that is leading up to it shows how important it is for the Touro community and the (New Orleans) community more broadly.” I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.”

A patron party for the Jazz Fest Shabbat begins at 6:00 p.m. with Preservation Hall Jazz Band members mixing, meeting and playing selections prior to the services, which begin at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend at no charge this Friday, April 24. Doors open an hour before the service and seating is on a first-come, first served basis.

 

 

 

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