From The Desk Of Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Documentary Film

Like most New Orleans-born-and-bred musicians, Ben Jaffe understands music not as a byproduct of the human experience but as a heart-deep part of that experience itself. Jaffe—tuba player, bassist and current leader/co-composer for the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band—comes by it honest, as they say. In 1961, his parents founded the Preservation Hall venue, a performance space especially notable during the Jim Crow era for being one of a handful in New Orleans open to both white and black players. What started as the venue’s de facto house band is now a pillar of the city’s musical history: a live performance, recording and educational outreach project 55 years strong and counting. PHJB’s new album, So It Is, continues the band’s longstanding custom of preserving and contributing new material to traditional New Orleans acoustic music. Jaffe will be guest editing all week. Read our feature on the band.

Jaffe: I’ve always loved documentaries and the people who make them. We’re surrounded by incredible stories. There’s something beautiful about watching a story unfold onscreen. I’ve always considered live musical performances on film a type of documentary. I started watching live performances on film in high school. Back then, everything was on VHS. If I heard about a Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Duke Ellington concert on tape, I would scour flea markets, used book stores and record stores for bootleg copies. There were some great spots in Cleveland and New York with incredible collections of shows on tape. Each tape held it’s own importance because it took so much of effort to learn about, track down and acquire. I vividly remember the day I came across the very rare and highly coveted unreleased Rolling Stones tour documentary Cocksucker Blues by Robert Frank in a tiny used book store in Los Angeles. It felt like I had struck gold. On another occasion, a friend gave me an interview and performance of my parents from the 1960s in Japan.

Some favorite directors include: D.A. Pennebaker, Les Blank, Robert Frank and Bruce Webber. Some of my favorite films: Streetwise, Hoop Dreams, Hands On A Hard Body, Crumb, Piano Players Rarely Play Together, American Movie, Soul Power and We Were Kings, Bayou Maharaja, Nanook Of The North, Let’s Get Lost, Harlan County, No Direction Home. Each film is unique and beautiful.