Jazz Entourages Play On After Band Leader Dies
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. . . . The very name and the raucous, exciting, happy jazz the band plays conjure up images of New Orleans in the ‘20s. Funny thing is, Allan Jaffe, the man behind Preservation Hall, was a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
It was Jaffe who turned a series of informal jam sessions in a New Orleans art gallery into an ongoing, seven-days-a-week musical celebration. And it was Jaffe who formed several touring bands that have traveled across the globe, carrying with them that boisterous blend of improvisation and melody underpinned by punchy rhythms that leaves young and old alike shouting for more.
Whatever his origins, it was in the world of New Orleans jazz that Jaffe found his metier. In 1961, Jaffe and his wife, Sandy, moved to the city and soon became the main forces behind both the Hall itself--a 100-seat, six-bench room on St. Peter Street in the fabled French Quarter--and its bands, which have included such players as Percy and Willie Humphrey, Sing Miller, Louis Nelson, George (Kid Sheik) Colar and Jaffe himself, who was a tuba player.
Jaffe died of cancer March 9 at age 51. While his colleagues say they “miss him tremendously,” the bands have kept going in his absence without, let’s say, missing a beat. “Allan had taken care of things so well for so long that we are simply running on the momentum he was responsible for,” road manager Chris Botsford said.
One of four touring Preservation Hall entourages--with trumpeter Colar, trombonist Nelson, clarinetist Orange Kellin and others--performs tonight at South Coast Community Church in Irvine and Wednesday at the Downey Theater in Downey.
Colar, 87, was part of the first tour that Jaffe arranged in the early ‘60s. Since then he has gone to Europe several times, to Japan and, most recently, to Thailand, where the Preservation Hall Band played for--and with--the king. “He plays trumpet and saxophone pretty good,” Colar said.
Colar, who has been a professional musician since he was 15, was asked to explain the immense joy that results from the band’s performances. “I think it’s the feelin’ and the beat,” he said in a gravelly voice. “Everywhere we go, after we play a tune or two, the audience can’t keep still. They’re pattin’ their feet, clappin’ their hands. It’s just a feeling because we’re playing from the heart.”
The audience’s happiness, in turn, spurs the musicians on. “We enjoy playing, and we enjoy the feelin’ in them, they’re so happy,” Colar said. “Sure, that kind of reaction makes you feel more like playing.”
It was Jaffe’s belief that older musicians like Colar (who got his nickname from wearing spiffy clothes as an adolescent) and Nelson, 86, needed younger associates to keep the music alive and add strength to the bands. Since New Orleans is the mecca of early jazz, he was in the right place to gather talented youths who had traveled there.
“I came to New Orleans in 1966 just to listen to the music,” said Kellin, a 43-year-old Swede whose first name is Orjan (pronounced “Oar-ee-ahn”) but who calls himself “Orange” because that’s what everybody else does. “It was a wonderful period where a lot of older musicians were still alive and active.
“I thought I’d be back in (the) university in a few months. But I’d been there a month and somebody asked me to record, then Allan asked me to join Preservation Hall, and I was off and running. It’s been a big adventure.”
If it hadn’t been for Jaffe, Botsford said, Preservation Hall “as an idea would never have lasted. He had a way of encouraging and helping musicians. Many had not worked for years. He lent them encouragement, money, got them instruments, medical attention. . . . Preservation Hall is really an extended family, and Allan was its guiding spirit.”
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
Tonight, 8 p.m.
South Coast Community Church,
5120 Bonita Canyon Road, Irvine.
$8 to $12.
Information: (714) 856-5000.