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Big Easy to Big Apple: Preservation Hall jazz band hits W’burg

Terror tunes: Preservation Hall Jazz Band will play Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg on Oct. 29, two days before Halloween.
Brooklyn Paper
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The jazz hall band plays a jazz Hall-oween!

A swinging New Orleans jazz band will parade into the city’s best borough to play hits from its latest album at an Oct. 29 show at Brooklyn Bowl. The change of scenery — and speed — from the Big Easy to the Big Apple is always welcome, said the creative director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

“There’s no other city that even comes close to being anything like New York,” said Ben Jaffe, who also plays upright bass and tuba. “It’s always an adventure. The pace is opposite of what we’re accustomed to in New Orleans. It is something that can be daunting and challenging for someone who’s not used to it, but if you can channel and understand that energy and where it comes from and what the possibilities are, it’s like nothing else.”

The storied septet began as the house band for Preservation Hall in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and still plays there when they are not on tour. Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded the jazz hall in 1961, and the band has seen many iterations over the years. Jaffe, who joined the troupe in 1993, says that the 60-year age gap between the band’s oldest and youngest musicians leads to a rich dynamic both on and off the stage.

“It’s an essential part of who we are,” Jaffe said. “As younger musicians come in to our family, it’s essential that they have other musicians who have been there in the past as guides. It’s a beautiful part of Preservation Hall.”

Preservation Hall’s saxophone and clarinet player, Charlie Gabriel, is the band’s oldest member at 85, and had a six-decade jazz career before joining the band in 2009. Trumpeter Branden Lewis, 28, is the youngest of the crowd, and joined the band in 2016, along with pianist Kyle Roussel. Drummer Walter Harris, trombonist Ronnell Johnson, and saxophonist Clint Maedgen round out the group.

During the band’s 54-year career, it has released just two records of original music: “That’s It” in 2013 and “So It Is” earlier this year. The latter album was inspired by a 2015 trip to Havana, where the members re-discovered the African roots that connect the two cities, their cultures, and their musical traditions.

“When we went there we really felt the most familiar with the energy of the place,” Jaffe said. “The Cuba trip gave us this experience that then informed the songs.”

At Brooklyn Bowl, the group will play up-tempo dance tunes from its new record, along with some Halloween “seasonal songs,” said Jaffe. “Rattlin’ Bones,” a tune from its 2013 record, was not intended as a spooky song, he said, but it was immediately baptized as such by Jim James, the band’s longtime collaborator.

“We didn’t even think of it,” said Jaffe, “but Jim James said, ‘It’s a Halloween hit!’ ”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Brooklyn Bowl (61 Wythe Ave. at N. 12th Street in Williamsburg, www.brooklynbowl.com). Oct. 29 at 8 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 5:53 pm, July 9, 2018
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