Preservation Hall Recordings Survive the Waterline The sound of New Orleans Jazz is unmistakable. If you're in the Crescent City, there's one place you're sure to find it: Preservation Hall. A new, jam-packed box set celebrates the Preservation Hall Jazz Band master tapes that survived Hurricane Katrina.
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Preservation Hall Recordings Survive the Waterline

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Preservation Hall Recordings Survive the Waterline

Preservation Hall Recordings Survive the Waterline

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The sound of New Orleans jazz is unmistakable, and if you're in New Orleans, there's one place you're sure to find it - Preservation Hall. The place is famous for its music. But as one of the oldest surviving buildings in the French Quarter, it's not much to look at.

Mr. BEN JAFFE (Creative Director, Preservation Hall): It's a very humble environment. You actually walk into the old carriageway and to your left, you'll find a very small room that only fits about 70 people. A wooden floor, a few benches - it's very Quaker in that rugged way. And there's no air conditioning or heating, no running water, no microphones or amplification. You're literally sitting at the feet of musicians, which is one of the beautiful things about New Orleans music is the participation that takes places between the audience and the music. There really is no separation in New Orleans.

NORRIS: That's Ben Jaffe, and he knows his way around Preservation Hall. He grew up there. His father, Alan Jaffe, helped launch it back in 1961 as a way to keep the New Orleans sound alive. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has now released a box set called Made in New Orleans. As collections go, it's a bit unusual. The large box is full of mementos, snap shots, business cards, handwritten notes, even a restaurant receipt for a lunch order of oysters. They're all vintage reproduction that captures the Preservation Hall history. And, of course, there's a CD of new and old recordings from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

This project started in 2005, but then Hurricane Katrina hit, and that changed everything. After the storm, Ben Jaffe took a trip out of the legendary Sea-Saint Studios. All the early Preservation Hall recordings were made and stored there, and their fate was uncertain because the studio sits in the Gentilly neighborhood, one of the hardest-hit areas. Jaffe wore a face mask and boots when he went back to Sea-Saint to protect against the mold and the standing water. And he carried a flashlight so he could spot what was left.

Mr. JAFFE: I had found the tape room and I found hundreds of master tapes there and, of course, the worst had happened that all of these master tapes - Fats Domino, The Meters, Neville brothers - they had all ended up under water. And as I made my way up the shelf with my flashlight, miraculously, the Preservation Hall tapes had been stored above the top shelf. They had ended up about three inches above the water line.

NORRIS: What was that like for you when your eyes went forward and you realized that they were the tapes that were above the waterline, they'd been saved.

Mr. JAFFE: My heart started racing. I mean, when I had seen all of the damaged tapes, I felt like I had - I was in a church that had been destroyed. I mean, this was my church. These were the bands that I grew up listening to, and they gave me all of the joy in my life. And to see something that was so precious gone forever, I haven't been able to process it. When I found the Preservation Hall tapes, the first thing I wanted to know is did they make it? What survived and what's on those tapes?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAFFE: And I was so surprised to find that they had all survived. And I never wanted to lose that again. I wanted to share this with everybody, and that really is when we started thinking about this project and started thinking about how do you incorporate music recorded 40 years ago into music that's recorded today. And I realized being in New Orleans is the past, the present and the future all at the same time.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Then there's this one song called "Over in Glory Land." And it has new tracks that are sung over an older recording from Sea-Saint Studios. It was produced by your father, Allan Jaffe, in 1976.

(Soundbite of song, "Over in Glory Land)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) If you get there before I do over in the glory land.

Mr. JAFFE: The funny thing about this recording is, is when I first listened to it, I was so upset because, for some, reason the vocal microphone wasn't on, on the original recording. I don't know if they were testing it or there was a short in the microphone. Anyway, it turned out to be the best thing that could have possibly happen because I ended up getting to produce the track with my dad who's no longer alive.

(Soundbite of song, "Over in Glory Land")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Over in the glory land. Over in the glory land, with the mighty host I'll stand just over in the glory land.

NORRIS: Preservation Hall reopened in April of 2006. It's now open four days a week. What's going on there? I understand that you're open, but revenue's down quite a bit.

Mr. JAFFE: It is down quite a bit. All over the city, we haven't seen the - our primary source of revenue in the city which was tourism. And the convention business has not returned.

NORRIS: You know, it's a tough question to ask, but if the revenue at Preservation Hall is down by 70 percent. How do you keep this going?

Mr. JAFFE: I keep it going because I feel that it's the most important thing that that I've ever done in my life. Keeping it open is, is a symbol, not only to myself, but to the city of how important this is to us and to the musicians of New Orleans and the role that it's played. Yes, revenue's down. We've lost money this past year. We're making an investment in our future, not just financial future, but in our own personal future in terms of being satisfied with what we will have in the future. I mean, it's ours to save today for ourselves.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Blow, wind, blow 'til that judgment day. Blow, wind, blow all my troubles away.

NORRIS: Ben, it's been wonderful to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming in to the studio.

Mr. JAFFE: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Ben Jaffe is the creative director for Preservation Hall. You can hear songs from the Made in New Orleans box set and watch vintage concert footage at our music site,

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