Ben Jaffe

b. 1971

Ben Jaffe was born in New Orleans in 1971.  He grew up in the French Quarter in a musical family.  His parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded Preservation Hall in New Orleans, where they performed and toured as musicians, bringing Ben along on the road.  He graduated from New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a performing arts high school, where he learned to play bass from Walter Payton.  Ben studied bass at the conservatory of Oberlin College before returning to New Orleans to take on the role of manager at Preservation Hall.  After Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife created the New Orleans Musician Hurricane Relief Fund to bring New Orleans musicians back home.  Ben, along with the other members of the Preservation Hall Band, was awarded the Medal of National Medal of Arts and went to the White House to receive the Medal from George Bush on November 6, 2006.  At the time of the interview, Ben served as the creative director of Preservation Hall in New Orleans and plays tuba and double bass with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  

Scope and Content Note

Ben discusses his upbringing in the French Quarter of New Orleans and his love for the city. Ben's parents, Sandra and the late Alan Jaffe, founded Preservation Hall in 1961 in a segregated city at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.  Ben says they were single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of traditional New Orleans Jazz.  Ben talks about the influences of his Orthodox community Chevra Thilim.  He remembers his bar mitzvah and socializing with other Jewish children.  Ben talks about his love for music, growing up in a diverse musical environment, and graduating as a bassist from the conservatory at Oberlin College.  Ben remembers hearing about Hurricane Katrina and preparing for the storm.  He recalls begging an older woman to leave New Orleans before the hurricane.  Ben discusses his harrowing experience with Hurricane Katrina and details many perceived miracles that allowed him and his family to survive.  Ben stayed in New Orleans through the storm, in his home in the Faubourg Marigny.  After the storm, he desperately searched for his band and personally paid to reassemble them so that they could tour the world and call attention to the critical situation in New Orleans.  He highlights the aftermath of the hurricane and how difficult it was to witness the hurricane from New Orleans.  Ben talks about the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on musicians and the music business.  He talks about efforts to rebuild the city and starting the New Orleans Musician Hurricane Relief Fund.  Ben gave up touring with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a gig he has had for thirteen years, to tend to his home, family, and the day-to-day management of the hall.  Ben, along with the other members of the Preservation Hall Band, was awarded the Medal of National Medal of Arts and went to the White House to receive the medal from George Bush on November 6, 2006.  Ben wonders how to preserve the legacy of Preservation Hall and the music without making both into a museum curiosity.  Finally, Ben reflects on his dad's passion for music, how his priorities have changed since the hurricane, and racism in the South.  Other topics include New Orleans Musical Culture, Orthodox Judaism, Preservation Hall, Chevra Tillim, A Musician's Life.

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Ben Jaffe. Interviewed by Rosalind Hinton. 6 September 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 23, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/jaffe-ben>.

Oral History of Ben Jaffe by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.