Famous owner of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall jazz club Sandra Jaffe dies at 83

JTA – Sandra Jaffe, a Jewish woman who, along with her husband, ran one of New Orleans’ top jazz clubs for decades and joined the club before segregation ended, died on the month last at 83 years old.

Jaffe and her husband, Allan, were considered pioneers and protectors of jazz in the city that gave birth to the genre, although they landed in the city of Philadelphia as the musical style was threatened by more recent forms. like rock and roll. Their club, Preservation Hall, has hosted renowned jazz musicians. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the club’s touring group, have recorded with major artists such as Pete Seeger, Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong.

“There is no doubt that Preservation Hall saved New Orleans jazz,” George Wein, an influential jazz promoter who died earlier this year, told Vanity Fair in 2011 of the club.

Jaffe was born Sandra Smolen in Philadelphia in 1938 to Jewish parents who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine. She graduated from Harcum College in 1938 and married Allan Jaffe in 1960. Returning from their honeymoon in Mexico, the couple stopped in New Orleans, where they strolled through an art gallery for hear a band play jazz. The couple were fascinated by the music and decided to stay a few more days to hear the band perform again.

“On their way back to Philadelphia, they stopped in New Orleans and, like others before and after, found themselves swept away by the beauty, romance, excitement, mystery, freedom, l ‘history, unstable affairs and the charm of the city,’ the Jaffes, ‘wrote the sons in an obituary posted on the Preservation Hall website.

When they visited the gallery a few days later, the owner, Larry Borenstein, told the couple he was moving the gallery next door and offered them the space for $ 400 a month. Although they had no experience running a club – and despite Sandra’s parents expecting the couple to return to Philadelphia – they decided to rent the space and opened Preservation Hall in 1961.

“We didn’t come to New Orleans to start a business, or have Preservation Hall, or save music,” Sandra told Vanity Fair in 2011. “We just came to hear it.”

After starting the club together, the Jaffes had their first son, Russell, in 1969, after which Sandra stopped working. She did not return to work at the club until 1987, when Allan died of melanoma at the age of 51. Their second son, Ben, returned to work at the club after graduating from college in 1993.

Sandra Jaffe outside Preservation Hall, the revered New Orleans jazz club she co-founded with her husband Allan. (Danny Clinch via JTA)

In the decades since the hall’s inception, countless locals and tourists alike have descended on the small hall to hear a rotating cast of musicians. Spectators line up outside to hang on to one of the banquettes inside the rustic interior where musicians and the audience share an intimacy closer to a living room than a performance hall .

Children are often seated on the floor directly in front of the musicians, who alternate between playing music and telling jazz stories or answering questions from the audience. Crumbling plaster walls, worn hardwood floors and the random assortment of paintings add to the simple and healthy vibe and stand in stark contrast to the atmosphere of daiquiri and flashing neon lights on Bourbon Street a few more homes away. low.

Sandra Jaffe, who along with her husband, Allan, owned and managed Preservation Hall since the early 1960s, stands with her son, Ben, as they welcome guests to the first show at the historic venue in 15 months since the lockdown of the coronavirus, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in New Orleans. The guest, right, is crossing his fingers in hopes the music and touring are back for good. (Chris Granger / The Times-Picayune / The Advocate via AP)

According to the obituary posted on the Preservation Hall website, the club was the first integrated hall in New Orleans, in defiance of the Jim Crow laws still in effect before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sandy Jaffe was arrested once for breaking the segregation laws still in effect at the time.

Speaking to the Crescent Jewish Times, a local New Orleans Jewish newspaper, about his involvement in a local Shabbat jazz festival in 2015, Ben Jaffe said his mother saw music as a way to bring communities together. and his parents, both of observant Jews. communities, valued the maintenance of Jewish traditions.

“In many ways it’s a continuation of my parents’ vision to unify communities through music,” he said.

Ben recalled his bar mitzvah at one of the local synagogues as “one of the most diverse bar mitzvahs ever attended for service in New Orleans” because of all the jazz musicians in attendance.

“We spent a lot of time in churches performing for different functions,” Ben Jaffe told the Baltimore Jewish Times in 2013. “I think in New Orleans it was just a natural extension of [my parents’] Jewishness [by them] get involved in the African American community.

Like other concert halls in New Orleans, Preservation Hall has been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It reopened in June but is closed again for a few days amid a nationwide resurgence of the virus.

Sandra Jaffe was on hand for the reopening in June, hugging the local musicians who showed up to perform.

AP contributed to this report

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