The year is 1950-something, and the dawn of rock n’ roll has just begun. Tucked between buildings on St. Peter Street in the New Orleans French Quarter is a small art gallery called Associated Artists. It is more than just an art gallery, though. At Associated Artists, the owner is hosting jam sessions for legendary jazz musicians–George Lewis, Punch Miller, and Jim Robinson, for example–in violation of the time’s Jim Crow laws. With so few jazz halls available, these artists have side jobs and are struggling to make a name for themselves, but they won’t be for long. Soon, the art gallery will draw enough attention to itself to draw in music enthusiasts from all over the world. This is the beginning of what would be Preservation Hall, the most important music venue in the world.
In 1960, Allan and Sandra Jaffe stumbled upon the city in which they would spend the rest of their lives when they visited New Orleans. Their lives changed when they walked through the wrought-iron doors of Associated Artists. The sounds and energy of the jazz musicians there mesmerized the Jaffes, and, in 1961, they established Preservation Hall in place of Associated Artists. The art gallery continued to operate until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allowed Preservation Hall to serve its purpose as a jazz hall. The art gallery moved next door, and Preservation Hall quickly garnered national recognition for its work in bringing back to prominence the unsung heroes of New Orleans jazz music. It became known as a place that honored and celebrated the community of African American and Creole music, which had gone unappreciated until then.
Preservation Hall spread the love of New Orleans music across the world with its own band, Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Today, the Hall and its band is run by Ben Jaffe, one of Allan and Sandra’s sons. He plays tuba like his father did, and he plays bass in the band.
“I’m carrying on in my parents’ footsteps,” he says. “I’m carrying their legacy and the tradition of Preservation Hall, which is to honor the African American and Creole music communities of New Orleans.”
He describes Preservation Hall as “The Mount Rushmore of New Orleans music,” and the “Carnegie Hall of New Orleans,” all to say that Louisianians have such a special place right in their backyard, and many of us may not know it exists. And, after being closed for 15 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Preservation Hall has reopened in time for its 60th anniversary, and it is ready to continue its legacy.
“It’s a very small space,” Ben says. He explains that, while Preservation Hall looks exactly the way it looked 60 years ago when his parents discovered it, “you’re transported to another time and place at any of its performances. It’s like trying to describe a taste or a color; you just have to experience it for yourself.”
As well as one-of-a-kind, the experience at Preservation Hall is very intimate. There are only 50-60 guests per concert, so it’s important to get your tickets early because they sell out very quickly. As Ben said, you have to see it for yourself to understand the raw talent and deeply rooted tradition Preservation Hall hosts. You can access the calendar of which bands will be performing and purchase tickets at preservationhall.com.
The jazz doesn’t stop there, though. New Orleans has plenty of other jazz clubs for you to choose from, and they’re all within walking distance of each other. The good news is that, since you can’t possibly visit all of them, you can always come back.
Snug Harbor: This jazz club takes the space of a 200-year-old building with room for a music hall, a dining room, and a bar. Snug Harbor puts on concerts each night of the week. snugjazz.com
DBA New Orleans: DBA hosts eclectic groups of musicians for their nightly live music shows. It is also well-known for its selection of craft beers and cocktails. dbaneworleans.com
The Spotted Cat Music Club: Also known as “The Cat,” this club has received national recognition for its shows, its ambiance, and its tiny stage. spottedcatmusicclub.com
The Ritz-Carlton: The Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton is an elegant jazz lounge with a bistro, afternoon tea hours, and live performances by Jeremy Davenport and his band. ritzcarlton.com
The Jazz Playhouse: The Jazz Playhouse at Royal Sonesta Hotel is another luxurious jazz lounge in the area with food, drinks, and live performances in the hotel lobby. sonesta.com
Fritzel’s Jazz Bar: With jazz concerts every night of the year, Fritzel’s is the oldest jazz club in New Orleans. Fritzel’s Jazz Band performs every night of the week, along with other bands listed on their calendar. fritzelsjazz.com
Maple Leaf Bar: “The Leaf” is another one of New Orleans’ oldest jazz clubs, featuring live performances seven nights a week of jazz, rock, R&B, blues, and beyond. It hosts artists both local and big-name; every Monday and Tuesday night, it is home to Grammy-winning artists George Porter Jr. and Rebirth Brass Band, respectively. The Leaf is also known for having surprise guest performers, too. mapleleafbar.com
Bayou Bar: Located in the Ponchartrain Hotel, Bayou Bar is a warm, casual bar with light snack options and live music Tuesday-Saturday. You can find their concert schedule online. bayoubarneworleans.com