The #MakeChangeSeries During Sundance Concludes with Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s All-Star Night

Along with special guests Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire's Win and Régine, the spirit of New Orleans was vibrant in snowy Park City. 

On the final evening of the #MakeChangeSeries, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Artistic Director Ben Jaffe showed up to chat with KCRW’s Anne Litt, looking fresh despite playing with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne until the wee hours the night before. Jaffe’s normally wild hair tamed by a colorful knit hat, he discussed his beloved home city of New Orleans and what the Pres Hall Band is doing there to preserve jazz culture with the Preservation Hall Foundation. “One thing I respect about New Orleans is you don’t push your way in… you’re invited,” he said wisely.

Jaffe’s parents were the original founders of Preservation Hall, and their son has carried on the institution’s legacy with aplomb. “We struggle with our mission statement because nothing quite captures everything we do,” Jaffe admitted, before sharing the three words he has come up with to give some semblance of explanation: “Protect, perpetuate, and preserve.” This refers to the community, the music, and the traditions of the city. “In New Orleans we have incredible honor and respect for our elders,” he said. “We’re not just inheriting their musical torch—we’re inheriting their soul.”

Jaffe also noted a few choice details about the upcoming film A Tuba to Cuba, which documents the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s trip to Cuba and journey to retrace their NOLA jazz roots. For Jaffe, nowhere encapsulates the New Orlean’s spirit better than Cuba. “For hundreds of years, New Orleans was like northern Cuba—it was the closest mainland port,” he said of the locations’ connection. 

It has also struck Jaffe, when visiting impoverished countries, that the places with the least physical and material goods to share also have the most love to give—quite simply because that’s all they have. He’s taken that lesson with him, and when Anne Litt asked Jaffe what the rest of us could do to help make change, his answer was succinct but powerful: “Empathy, compassion, givin’ a shit…. the idea of care,” he said. “Wake up every day and just care about something.”

Later that night, the venue reached capacity instantly (with guests like Alia Shawkat, Haley Joel Osment, Angela Sarafyan and Reggie Watts) as the Pres Hall Jazz Band piled onstage and rocked the sweaty house for two sets. Win and Régine joined the band to play David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and the New Orleans standard “Iko Iko,” plus Arcade Fire songs. While the band took a break, Win (a.k.a. DJ Windows 98) kept the grooves flowing, as Régine (who has endless energy) danced her butt off, alternating between the tambourine and drums while singing along to jams like “Sexual Healing” and Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch.” Even Reggie Watts climbed onstage to scat, to the delight of the crowd who chanted his name. The party raged on until the early hours of the morning—and for one night, the spirit of New Orleans was alive in snowy Park City.

Check out more photos from the festivities below.

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