Born January 26, 1971, New Orleans, Louisiana
The son of the co-founders of Preservation Hall, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, Benjamin was raised in the heart of the French Quarter and its culture. His earliest memories involve the musicians that his parents befriended -- watching them perform in parades, sharing Christmas gumbo with his godfather, Harold "Duke" Dejan, watching glaciers drift past at age three with his father and the band on an Alaskan cruise. Benjamin began playing bass in his school's band at age seven; the director, Walter Payton, was a fixture at Preservation Hall and father of the celebrated trumpeter Nicholas Payton, with whom Benjamin would eventually play with in the All Star Brass Band. In rehearsals and concerts they explored both traditional repertoire and songs that drew from the unique history of New Orleans -- the churches ("What a Friend We Have in Jesus") as well as the clubs ("Basin Street Blues"). After hours, with his parents at the Hall, Benjamin listened to and got to know the reigning royalty of jazz: Sweet Emma Barrett, William and Percy Humphrey, Louis Nelson, Chester Zardis and dozens of others. The day after his graduation from Oberlin College in 1993, Ben flew out to join the Preservation Hall Band as bassist on their world tour. Gradually, he assumed his late father's responsibilities as director of Preservation Hall while continuing as a full-time band member and teaching as an adjunct professor at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, his high school Alma Mater.
"Music in New Orleans isn't just something you hear in a classroom or a theater. It exists on the streets as a part of everybody's daily life. You hear it in the parades and at the churches. We're so blessed to have that experience; there's nothing like it anywhere else in United States."
"We never had to go too far out of our way to learn New Orleans Music. We were surrounded by it. We learned to play through knowing the people who played it before us -- not just as musicians, but also as friends. It wasn't just the notes they played. Anybody could learn the notes. But not everybody could spend weekends at the homes of these musicians, going to their churches and functions, and being a part of their lives outside of Preservation Hall."
"There's a lot of history, struggle and oppression that contributes to what we now call New Orleans Music. There's history, tradition and meaning to the way we dance and celebrate. There's so much cultural depth to what we play. That's why it's unique. Once you separate New Orleans jazz from the culture that gave this music life, it's not New Orleans jazz anymore."
"As our audience displays a renewed interest in what Preservation Hall represents, we're going to continue to challenge them and educate them on the importance of what it is we represent. We're going to incorporate more into our performances, whether it be film or dancers or guest vocalists or an emcee, similar to the great New Orleans Revue Shows of the 1940s and '50s used to do."
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