New Orleans jazz swinging by

Local audiences get a chance to enjoy the musical traditions of New Orleans jazz this week, as the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band is scheduled to go on stage at the Allou Fun Park’s Big Top Theater in Rendi on Wednesday and Thursday. A few days before the band’s performances, Kathimerini spoke to Ben Jaffe, the ensemble’s artistic director. «The band’s history unfolded during the 1950s, when the New Orleans traditional jazz scene was in full swing, featuring leading representatives of the era’s top musicians. At the time, there were enough musicians, but not enough venues. That was until Larry Borenstein, an art dealer and great lover of New Orleans music, decided to give a little hand – and dollars. That’s how the Preservation Hall was born in the city’s French quarter in 1961,» said Jaffe. The then-young musician Allan Jaffe (Ben’s father) undertook the venue’s artistic direction, and soon the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was established. During its first years, the band featured musicians of the likes of Louis Nelson, Billie Pierce and Albert Burbank, as well as the popular Sweet Emma Barrett, also known as Bell Gal, given her penchant for placing bells on her garters. While the band maintains the musical scope of its early days, what are the differences between then and now? Many believe that there are a lot of young talented musicians who play very well, but given that they are not great composers they seem unable to develop the musical genre in the manner of jazz’s great legends and end up basing their work on the established repertoire. Jaffe disagrees. «I don’t believe that bands recycle old material. They learn from it, injecting it with new sounds and ideas. Every now and then they say that jazz is dead. Jazz is here and it’s alive. It’s old musicians that are dead.» Does technology facilitate jazz? «Only when it comes to spreading it to as many people as possible,» said Jaffe. In the era of pop, hip-hop, rap and r’n’b, is there any space for jazz in the heart of the young? «There are plenty of young people who love jazz,» said Jaffe. «Our biggest concern is not the figures, but how to make jazz attractive to a wider age group. That is directly linked to the fact that compared to the old days, it’s harder for jazzmen to become famous – and rich – nowadays. As far as we are concerned, we do everything in our power to spread the music, such as donating musical instruments to city schools and making educational appearances when we’re touring.» Given this great musical tradition, one would imagine that in New Orleans, jazz is everywhere: in the air, in the city’s rhythm and movement. «That’s the way it still is,» said Jaffe. «Perhaps it turned into a luxury in Chicago, in New York and Los Angeles, but in New Orleans, it’s a necessity and very much part of daily life.» The Preservation Hall Band, Wednesday and Thursday at the Big Top Theater, 7 Kanapitseri (Kifissou & Petrou Ralli), tel 210.490.6300.

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