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Preservation Hall: Hallowed Ground

Amanda Irizarry
Elephant Quilt Productions

Giants of traditional jazz played here; hell, they still play here: tucked behind walls with a patina worthy of the temple Preservation Hall has been through the years. 

The doors opened in 1961. This was to be a sanctuary for America's original music, born on the banks of the Mississippi. Here, the original sound of jazz would echo down St. Peter Street, even as rock 'n' roll swallowed radio. 
The brainchild of Allan and Sandra Jaffe, transplants to New Orleans with all the wisdom of youth, the Hall opened in an art gallery owned by Larry Borenstein and really hasn't changed all that much in the 50+ years since. Thank Goodness. 

Borenstein would invite musicians to his gallery for jam sessions. Preservation Hall would grow from a spirit of revivalism its founders fostered. 

The names of those who've played here is the starting point for anyone interested in traditional jazz: Billie and Dede Pierce, George Lewis and his band, Sweet Emma Barrett and her band, Jim Robinson, Chester Zardis, Frank Demond, Percy Humphrey, Willie Humphrey, Harold Dejan, John and Wendell Brunious, Don Vappie, Narvin Kimball, Leroy Jones and Shannon Powell (who both still play there), Sister Gertrude Morgan, Sing Miller, Punch Miller, Kid Sheik, Kid Thomas Valentine, Tom Sancton and so many more.

That's not to say there isn't new music here. In fact, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has released a new album comprised entirely of original tunes. But the respect for the music and its players has never left this place. And we suspect it never will.

Our host is Ben Jaffe, who has inherited his parents' love for the music and musicians New Orleans calls its own. And we're joined by clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, who has returned to the Crescent after a long sojourn and has found a place to play at Preservation Hall.  


Here is the complete playlistof all the music heard in this hour.


There's much more for you to explore at— photos, a musical family tree, and news about Gwen's clarinet lesson.

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Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.