There’s a grand celebration taking place in San Francisco on Thursday, as SFJAZZ pays tribute to Preservation Hall with the presentation of the SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award.
Located on St Peter Street, in the heart of the French Quarter of New Orleans, the institution, regarded as ‘the cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture’, looks just like many others that surround it, but the interior throbs with the very soul of one of America’s truest art forms – jazz. On more than 350 nights a year, Preservation Hall plays host to an ensemble drawn from over 100 local jazz musicians who keep the tradition of New Orleans jazz alive.
The origins of Preservation Hall go back to the 1950s when the building at 726 St Peter Street housed a small art gallery, whose proprietor – one Larry Borenstein – found that he was unable to run the gallery and attend local jazz concerts, so he started inviting jazz musicians to perform ‘rehearsal sessions’ in the gallery – artists such as George Lewis, Punch Miller, Sweet Emma Barrett, Billie and De De Pierce and The Humphrey Brothers, who became legends in the world of jazz. So popular did these sessions become that the art gallery was moved to the building next door.
The performances soon attracted a good deal of attention from the press, and ultimately ownership of the Hall passed to a couple from Pennsylvania, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, who moved to New Orleans to carry on the tradition started by Larry Borenstein. The venue became known as Preservation Hall, and it wasn’t long before the jazz band bearing its name took its music on tour, first to the Midwest, and ultimately as far as Japan. Over the years, the band undertook collaborative tours and recordings in genres other than jazz, such as gospel (the Blind Boys of Alabama), hip-hop (Mos Def), bluegrass (the Del McCoury Band) and rock (My Morning Jacket) – and even ventured into the realms of dance and ballet in association with choreographer Trey McIntyre.
Preservation Hall also has a philanthropic mission – engaging with educational and social programming in New Orleans, and supporting local institutions through disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
Thursday evening’s celebration promises to be a grand affair – with guests enjoying New Orleans’ finest cuisine and drinks. The evening opens with cocktails, followed by a dinner (for which various packages are available), and then a Gala Concert, featuring musicians billed as “some of the most exciting names in jazz” – including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ellis Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Chucho Valdés, the SFJAZZ Collective, Pedrito Martinez, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Big Freedia, Daymé Arocena, Saul Williams, Airto Moreira and Ernán López-Nussa.
And that’s not all – the festivities continue with the SFJAZZ Gala After Party which is likely to be a blast, with performances by Galactic and The Original Pinettes Brass Band.
If you’d like to take part in this fabulous event, go to the SFJAZZ website for more information and tickets.
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