2014 was a banner year for New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The traditional jazz band spent the fall on a coast-to-coast tour with pianist, songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Allen Toussaint.
In March, “CBS Sunday Morning” profiled Preservation Hall, the 53-year-old music venue on St. Peter Street. In November, the hall and the band co-starred in the New Orleans episode of Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters’ eight-part music-documentary series “Sonic Highways.”
In December, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band wrapped up its 2014 performances with a festive series of “Creole Christmas” concerts in Houston, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
On tour during Thanksgiving weekend, the band members celebrated the holiday in Los Angeles with family members who flew out for the occasion.
Ben Jaffe, sousaphone player in the band and creative director of Preservation Hall, and his wife prepared Thanksgiving dinner.
“I told the band members how thankful I was to know each one of them,” Jaffe said last week. “And how grateful I was to be a part of their lives and for them to be a part of our lives.”
In addition to Jaffe, the band features Mark Braud, trumpet and vocals; Clint Maedgen, saxophone and vocals; Freddie Lonzo, trombone and vocals; Rickie Monie, piano, Ronell Johnson, tuba and vocals; and 82-year-old Charlie Gabriel, clarinet and vocals.
They all miss New Orleans when they’re away.
“When you’re out there on the road and really doing it, putting in hour after hour, having sleepless nights and bad meals, you make the sacrifice of being away from your family. But that’s your job and your career, this thing that you have a passion for,” Jaffe said.
While the tour’s set lists changed each night, they generally included a band-only segment; the band with Toussaint in performances of such signature Toussaint songs as “A Certain Girl,” “Working In a Coal Mine” and “Fortune Teller”; Toussaint in a tour-de-force solo; and everyone playing Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’ ” and “Saint James Infirmary.”
“Allen played wonderfully, the strongest I’ve heard him,” Jaffe said of the 76-year-old Toussaint. “It was so rewarding to work with someone who I’ve been a fan of for so many years, and a great experience for everybody.”
Jaffe also made special note of Gabriel, always the first band member up in the morning.
“We’ve all learned a tremendous amount from Charlie Gabriel,” he said. “He’s a symbol of this life. At 82, he loves what he does and plays with youthful fervor and excitement.”
Jaffe has high praise for Grohl, too, a rich and famous rock star who nevertheless genuinely loves the roots of American music. Likewise “Sonic Highways,” the HBO series and road trip that found Grohl and the Foo Fighters writing and recording a new song in eight American cities.
Jaffe, following a conversation with Grohl and the Foo Fighters’ manager, offered the band Preservation Hall.
“I said, ‘Look, if you guys are interested in coming to New Orleans and using Preservation Hall as your home base, we would be honored.’ ”
A gig prevented the Preservation Hall Jazz Band members from watching the premiere broadcast of the “Sonic Highways” episode that features them. They subsequently watched the show later in bits and pieces. Jaffe finally saw the entire episode back home in New Orleans.
“Dave did an amazing job,” he said. “The fact that he pulled it off is amazing. The whole series is incredible, a brilliant project.”