By Brett Martin
- Oct. 5, 2022
The Preservation Hall 60th Anniversary Celebration, held in the sold-out Orpheum Theater in New Orleans this past May, began with a song of mourning. “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is one of the most recorded gospel songs in history, perhaps best known for the rendition performed by New Orleans’s own Mahalia Jackson at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. Here, it was led by Ivan Neville, one of the night’s many guests, its solemn tone befitting a commemoration that had been so repeatedly deferred by various waves of Covid-19 that the anniversary it celebrated was in fact the 61st. Even then, the show barely went on. Nearly all of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the hall’s elite touring ensemble, and several members of its staff had spent the week with bouts of Covid. This included Ben Jaffe, who is not only the band’s tuba player, bassist and leader but also Preservation Hall’s owner and creative director and the steward of nearly every other aspect of its present and future.
Jaffe’s mother, Sandra, was among the musical figures lost in the year-plus since the concert was first scheduled. She died in December, at age 83. That morning, Jaffe visited the Jewish cemetery where she was buried beside her husband, Allan. The elder Jaffes built Preservation Hall into an internationally known institution that, as the legend goes, all but single-handedly saved New Orleans jazz from extinction. This story was invoked even before the Orpheum curtain rose to the opening chords of Neville’s keyboard, revealing the P.H.J.B. frozen onstage.
“We are all so grateful that your parents, Allan and Sandra, decided to honeymoon in New Orleans, following some musician friends of ‘Larry’s Gallery’ at 726 St. Peter Street,” said Mark Romig, a New Orleans tourism official better known for his first-down calls as the announcer at Saints games. “The rest,” he went on, “is history.”