Ben Jaffe is determined to make New Orleans jazz hip among a younger generation, reports Robert P. Walzer in The Wall Street Journal (8/8/12). “There’s no reason we shouldn’t end up on VHI one day,” says Ben, the 41-year-old creative director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “It would be super cool if we had a radio hit. It’d make the world a better place.” To that end, Ben has booked his band into hipster venues like the Brooklyn Bowl and the Great GoogaMooga Festival, where they performed on a bill with the Roots, a hip-hop/soul band. They’ve also recorded with Ani DiFranco and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def, among others –check it out;, it’s worth it: (video).
On tap are “two new albums … a 50th anniversary compilation box set” recorded at a “star-studded Carnegie Hall show” last January and an album of entirely new compositions. “We decided we want it to really hearken back to the earliest days of jazz,” says Ben. “I see the new project as actually being something old, in the tradition of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, when New Orleans jazz was brand new.” Phil Schaap, a jazz historian, notes that even though the music “remains in vogue” in New Orleans, its audience is growing older and smaller. However, he feels that Ben’s experimentation “is cultivating a new demographic tied to younger audiences.”
Ben sees his efforts to “preserve — and extend — New Orleans jazz tradition” as a “weighty responsibility.” He is carrying on the tradition of his father, Allan Jaffe, who “established the Preservation Hall in 1961,” bringing together “forlorn and forgotten” musicians in an art gallery that doubled as a drinking-free music hall. Today, Ben’s outreach includes “social media” and a “youth outreach program” that “teaches children ages 10-17 how to play New Orleans jazz.” Ben says his work is a balancing act “between perpetuating the tradition, but also making sure that it remains relevant to a new generation and not a museum piece.” It’s all about the kids, says Ben: “If they don’t find it groovy, then it’s not relevant.”