Updated: February 24, 2014 at 8:56 am
A hundred bands are playing on any given night in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
"There's more music concentrated on Bourbon Street than I've ever seen anywhere," said Ben Jaffe, creative director of Preservation Hall, a French Quarter institution, and a tuba player in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
That made a recent Tuesday night all the more interesting, Jaffe said, when the power went out in the entire French Quarter. The Preservation Hall Stars and Shannon Powell were playing that night, but the outage didn't stop them. They kept performing to the light provided by the audience's cellphones.
"I thought, we are the only band right now playing in the French Quarter," Jaffe said.
He and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will play at the Fine Arts Center on Wednesday.
The eight-piece band is touring in support of their new album, "That's It," which was released in July. It's notable for being the first album by the band composed entirely of original material.
"But it doesn't sound new," Jaffe said. "That's one of our greatest achievements with 'That's It.' It's not a departure for us, but a natural organic evolution of the Preservation Hall Band. By creating new compositions, it doesn't mean we're turning our back on our past. We probably have a newfound appreciation for our past by creating this work."
Preservation Hall was originally an art gallery in the 1950s, Jaffe said. Its owner started holding jam sessions, though he called them "rehearsals" as a way to circumvent the Jim Crow laws that prevented blacks and whites from socializing or interacting in certain ways. Jaffe's parents discovered the gallery in 1961, and were handpicked by the owner to own and operate it as a new music hall.
"My parents gravitated here," he said, "and became part of a group of people interested in New Orleans jazz and aging African-American musicians, many of which were pioneers of jazz. They were giving them a home, a place to perform where they received the respect that their art deserved. That was a revolutionary idea. That's what my parents walked into."
His father died when Jaffe was 16; Jaffe assumed duties of the hall in 1995 after graduating from Oberlin College's Conservatory of Music in 1993. He's watched from this front row seat as the classic New Orleans jazz, with its clarinet heavy sound, continually evolves.
Jaffe, whose father also played tuba in the band, learned to play in the traditional New Orleans way: He was mentored by older musicians.
"That's the tradition I grew up in," he said. "We have our funeral processions accompanied by brass bands, and that's the tradition where you'll see younger musicians marching alongside older generations. That's where a lot of us learned the New Orleans traditional music - performing in these marching brass bands."
Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26
Where: Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $40, $36 FAC members, $65 includes show ticket, $40 voucher for meal at Springs Orleans and 10 percent discount on a room at The Mining Exchange - A Wyndham Grand Hotel; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org.