Keeping New Orleans Jazz Alive
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.
This week, come along to the American South, to a special place in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is a very small building on Saint Peter’s Street. For more than forty years, musicians who perform there have done their part to continue the tradition of New Orleans jazz. Now, Shirley Griffith and Sarah Long tell the story of Preservation Hall.
Saint Peter’s Street is in the oldest part of the city of New Orleans. French people built this part of the city. The area is still called the French Quarter. The little building that is home to Preservation Hall was built as a home in about Seventeen-Fifty.
In nineteen sixty-one, Allan and Sandra Jaffe began using the small building as a music hall. Musicians there played traditional New Orleans jazz. Mr. and Missus Jaffe named the building Preservation Hall.
The word “preservation” means keeping or protecting for the future. When Allan and Sandra Jaffe opened Preservation Hall in nineteen sixty-one, traditional New Orleans Jazz music was in danger of disappearing.
Young people wanted to hear the music of Elvis Presley and other rock and roll stars. Not many young people wanted to listen to a very old kind of music that was first popular in the early Eighteen-Nineties.
However, many older musicians still liked traditional New Orleans jazz. They often came together and played, sometimes just for their own enjoyment. Allen Jaffe learned about these older musicians. He offered them his small building as a place to play their music.
Each night, when they were done with their other work, these jazz musicians gathered at the small building and played.
Allen Jaffe played with them. He was a tuba player. He also organized the music groups that played in the hall. Much later he organized trips so the bands could play around the United States and in many other countries.
Allen Jaffe was the force behind Preservation Hall until his death in nineteen eighty-seven.
Now we would like to take you to Preservation Hall, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It is really a very easy thing to do. Just close your eyes and listen.
It is a warm evening in New Orleans. We have just finished eating dinner at one of the famous New Orleans restaurants. We are walking along a very narrow street. Most of the buildings are very old.
Just ahead, people are standing in the street near a small building. Listen closely now. You can hear music coming from the little building at Seven-Sixty-Two Saint Peter’s Street. The music is coming from Preservation Hall.
We can hear the music from outside. A line of people waits to enter the building. When a few people leave the building, a few more are permitted to enter. We take our place in line. It is a nice warm evening and the music is great fun.
As we stand in line we hear the bandleader say softly, “A Closer Walk.” The leader has just told the members of the band what song they will play next.
The full name of the song is “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” This is a traditional church song that jazz bands have played for more than one-hundred years.
The song is slow and sad and very beautiful. It clearly shows the link between church music of black Americans and the beginnings of jazz music. It is the kind of song that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has helped to pass to the future. Listen. The band is beginning to play.
As the band finishes this song, many people leave the building. Now there is room for us to go inside. A young man at the door collects the money to enter the building. We pay a few dollars and walk inside. Near the wall a huge white cat sleeps on a chair. We can see pictures on the walls of the Preservation Hall Jazz Bands.
We turn to the left and enter a very small room. About thirty people are in here. There is no room for any more. Most people stand near the walls. A few sit on the floor in front of the band. A few sit on seats made from long pieces of old wood. Preservation Hall is about music, not costly surroundings.
Six men are facing us. One sits at a piano. Another plays drums. One plays a clarinet. Another plays a trumpet. One man plays the tuba and one a banjo. The trumpet player is almost always the leader of these groups. The trumpet player says, “Joe Avery” and the band begins to play another traditional early jazz song.
There is a funny sign in back of the band. The sign says the band will play songs requested by the people in the hall. The price for a request is one dollar for any traditional jazz song. The sign says other songs cost two dollars. And the sign says it will cost five dollars if anyone requests the song “Saints.”
The sign means the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It is a very traditional song that is closely linked with New Orleans and jazz. People request it so often that the band would really rather play something else.
However, a man sitting on the floor gives the bandleader five dollars and says, “Please play ‘The Saints.’ ” The bandleader takes the money and smiles. He says, “ ‘The Saints’ it is.”
It is time for us to leave now and permit others to enter Preservation Hall. We look around the small, famous room and move toward the door. The huge white cat is still asleep on the chair, its tail moving slowly. As we reach the door to the outside, the band begins another song. It is a very old Duke Ellington song, “Mood Indigo.”
As we walk away from Preservation Hall and into the warm evening, a man and woman are dancing in the street to the slow music. They are dancing while they wait to enter the famous little building at Seven-Sixty-Two Saint Peter’s Street, in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. Our studio engineer was Mick Shaw. I’m Sarah Long.
And I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.