Mar 31, 2010
In an unlikely pairing of talents, the ageless wonders of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have paired up with Indie Rock darlings My Morning Jacket on a recent album, and will be opening shows for the band on their upcoming tour. I had the chance to question Benji Jaffi of Preservation Hall on this unusual pairing,and the band's latest CD Preservation.
What inspired you to make the “Preservation” album, and who decided which musicians would be invited to sit in with you?
Our distribution company RED, wanted to create a benefit project for New Orleans. I came back to them with the idea of pairing the PHJB with guest artists and hence PRESERVATION was born.
Whose idea was it to have Jim James sit in? What was it like working with a “rock musician” so much younger than many members of the band?
My Morning Jacket and Jim James have been on my radar for quite some time. When Jim got wind of the project, he immediately reached out to me and wanted to know how he could participate. We chose two songs, “Louisiana Fairytale” and “St. James Infirmary Blues” (the Pres Hall band has renamed it St. Yames Infirmary Blues). Jim and I connected the moment we met. We are roughly the same age so it wasn't a stretch working with him. He is incredibly sensitive and was genuinely interested. New Orleans music knows no age. I've grown up around older musicians my whole life, so it was perfectly natural to have him perform with us.
Whose idea was it to have PHJB tour with MMJ? Was there any trepidation on the part of the band to play venues where the fans were expecting rock music? Anyone in the band particularly excited about the prospect?
Don't forget, New Orleans Jazz is Rock Music!!!! Louis Armstrong was the Jay Z of his day!!! Go back, read the newspaper articles. In the early 1900's, people thought jazz was responsible for dismantling the moral fibre of America's youth. We were invited by MMJ to join them on tour. It will be very interesting to see who rocks the crowds harder. No one can sit still to our music. The rhythm is infectious. New Orleans Jazz is America's orignal dance music.
What is it about New Orleans traditional music that attracts the current group of “alternative and indie” or “jam band” artists? Dirty Dozen Brass Band has toured with Dave Matthews Band and recorded with Elvis Costello and the Black Crowes. PHJB is touring with MMJ and has recorded with Jim James and Andrew Bird.
New Orleans Jazz is real. The musicians performing in New Orleans today are direct descendants of the earliest New Orleans Musicians. Our culture has remained intact for 100's of years. As the rest of the world speeds towards mall culture, there are fewer and fewer places to turn to have to have honest experiences. Most importantly, our music is amazing. Our music touches/feeds the heart AND the soul. It's impossible to sit still when Pres Hall strikes up. Combine these elements and you have the ambrosia of American music.
What are you most proud/happy with on the “Preservation” album and why. Any plans to do more recording like this if it is successful?
I am proud of the entire project. Every artist, every session was unique and special in its own way. For me, I'm still in disbelief I had the opportunity to collaborate with artists who have been influential to me over the years. The session that epitomizes the project to me was when we recorded "We Shall Overcome" with Pete Seeger and Tao Seeger. Knowing how important Mr. Seeger is to our history and how central he was in the civil rights movement made this session more than a recording project. Having Mr. Seeger at Preservation Hall interacting with our musicians made the project, for me, historical. The completion of many circles. Also, politically and musically, Mr. Seeger was a huge influence on my father and mother who moved to New Orleans to participate in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960's. I'm convinced Preservation Hall would not exist today if it were not for Mr,. Seeger's influence.