Ben Jaffe was born in New Orleans to Allan and Sandra Jaffe, who in 1961 founded the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which performs Saturday at the Forecastle Festival. The Jaffes lived a couple of doors from Preservation Hall, and young Ben was never far from live music. Then again, no one in New Orleans is ever far from live music.
“I was riding my bike through the French Quarter yesterday and caught two young brass bands, young as in high school kids, playing in the street,” said Jaffe, 41, now tuba player and music director for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
“I was riding to Treme because one of our elder statesmen in the music community passed away, Uncle Lionel Batiste. He was a pillar of the music community, and an impromptu memorial parade had erupted, and this was the Rebirth Brass Band. It had all happened sort of spontaneously, and not for any big audience.”
A few blocks away at the same time, Aretha Franklin was singing at the Essence Music Festival. That night, live music would be played at dozens of venues, from coffeehouses to the House of Blues to Preservation Hall, on St. Peter, in the heart of the Quarter.
Jaffe has traveled the world with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band but has yet to find a city that lives and breathes music as New Orleans does. And while the experience has been especially intense for him, he is by no means entitled. The music is everywhere, for anyone.
“If you live in certain neighborhoods in New Orleans, you’re going to hear live music every day of your life, which took me a long time to really understand,” he said. “In most places in the world, hearing music is what happens on occasion. When we’re traveling and I don’t hear live music, it feels like my vibrations are out of whack. It feels like you’ve missed a meal.”
Jaffe found some kindred spirits, vibration-wise, when he met My Morning Jacket a few years ago. He hit it off immediately with the insatiable music junkies, led by Jim James, usually the most strung-out song addict in any given room. Jaffe’s explosion of hair didn’t hurt.
James appeared on “Preservation,” a 2010 album benefiting Preservation Hall and its education programs, and MMJ has performed at the venue with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The jazz band will do a 4:15 p.m. set on the main stage Saturday at Forecastle, and then reunite with several MMJ members for a sold-out after-party set aboard the Belle of Louisville.
“A traditional jazz band playing with My Morning Jacket — on paper, that sounds kind of insane,” Jaffee said. “Jim and I don’t share similar tastes in a lot of music, but we have a similar fascination and curiosity, and having that openness is really important in music.”
A sense of responsibility, both to the past and future, is also crucial. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Jaffe and his wife, Sarah, started the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund (nomhrf.org, 800-957-4026), which has distributed more than $500,000 to needy musicians.
It had to be done. Music helped build New Orleans, and then rebuild it.
“The silence in New Orleans after the storm was palpable,” Jaffe said. “Fortunately, many of us play acoustic music, so we didn’t need electricity, so music was something that came back pretty quickly. And it was beautiful. When there wasn’t anything else, no other sound in the city except for the sound of a band playing, those were amazing times.”
Contact Jeffrey Lee Puckett at (502) 582-4160. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.