What follows is the full transcript from my interview with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Ben Jaffe, conducted for an article published in the March 2011 issue of the Hilton Head Monthly.
While preparing for our talk, I read a few of your interviews, and one thing that really stands out is how often you talk about the need to respect the traditions of your music.
I was raised with a sense of tradition, and I was also surrounded by it. Being around Preservation Hall and so many of its musicians, I developed a respect for them — almost the same way other people feel about their grandparents. It’s from the heart — it’s that kind of love. I also think it’s incredibly important, because of the nature of what we do, to have a respect for those traditions and know where we came from.
What struck a chord with me was that even though you’re very aware of those traditions, the band has spent the last several years expanding its audience in relatively non-traditional ways — with the Preservation album, for instance, which found you working with an eyebrow-raising list of guest stars, or with last year’s single, “It Ain’t My Fault,” which came together more organically — and was released a lot more quickly — than most music.
I think at the end of the day, I see what we do as being a continuation of what bands have been doing in New Orleans for over 100 years. If you look back to the very early days of New Orleans jazz, I mean, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, Pops Ellstein, Buddy Boldin, Jelly Roll Morton…there were no bigger names in music. These guys were the hip-hop artists of their day — wearing thousand-dollar suits, $10,000 tie pins, bragging about their womanizing and drinking. That’s something that I think it’s hard for people today to understand, because jazz is presented in such a different way.