Preservation Hall: Sound, Place and Memory

At New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, the preservation of sound and place are intertwined.  Both the venue and the unique style of music it shelters are icons of NOLA’s cultural heritage.  Today,  the Preservation Hall Jazz Band released two live albums – St. Peter & 57th Street and The Preservation Hall 50th Anniversary Collection.

Preservation Hall image via Wikipedia

Preservation Hall is housed in a c.1750 building in the heart of the French Quarter.  It has all the hallmarks that characterize French Quarter architecture: second story cast iron gallery, set at the sidewalk, three bays, all doors.  Though it was built as a private residence, it wore many hats in its 250+ years existence from residence to tavern to art gallery, before coming into its most famous role as the home of New Orleans jazz.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Jazz Band via Encyclopedia Britannica

At a time of cultural change in the US, Allan and Sandra Jaffe feared for a sound. New Orleans jazz was losing popularity to modern jazz and rock and roll music.  The Jaffes “wanted a place where New Orleans musicians could play New Orleans jazz.”  In 1961, they opened Preservation Hall. Every night since, NOLA jazz has filled the hall. Musicians young and old play to sold out crowds insuring the music is not only not forgotten, but thrives in the city.

Preservation Hall Sign via Wikimedia

I was lucky enough to visit Preservation Hall about eight years ago. It felt like a place out of time.   The unassuming historical exterior, signage, and stripped down interior let the music shine without distraction.  The historic atmosphere supported the music and lent it an of authenticity and pure NOLA charm.

After Katrina, I remember hearing concerns about Preservation Hall expressed by the news media.  It wasn’t name checked because the building survives from the 18th century or because it is an architectural masterpiece that would be a devastating loss to New Orleans. There are many buildings like it in the French Quarter. It was name checked because it is a cultural institution.  It is familiar to New Orleanians and to tourists.  It is the place that keeps the music.   Even though the music can technically be played anywhere (the Preservation Hall Jazz Band tours), the place has become as important as the music.

Here is to Preservation Hall on its 50th Anniversary – may place, memory, and sound thrive and intertwine under its roof for decades to come!

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