'More EDM than EDM': Preservation Hall Jazz Band brings acoustic dance to Coachella

Organizers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival have gone to great lengths in the 18 years since the event was born to expand and redefine its musical mission.

That’s led to bookings of acts well beyond the indie rock and electronic dance music that have been at the core of Coachella’s identity, such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Steely Dan, Madonna and (sorry, folks) even Beyoncé, who will headline the 2018 edition after having to sit out this year.

Still, taking all that into consideration, the appearance of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the lineup for 2017 likely caught many by surprise.

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This is, after all, the group that formed in 1961 to nurture the early 20th century style of jazz that appeared to be receding into obscurity.

What’s that got to do with Coachella’s signature amalgam of cutting-edge sounds from forward-facing corners in the music world? For at least one person, it makes perfect sense.

“Someone has described our music as more EDM than EDM,” Preservation Hall Band bassist, tuba player and group leader Ben Jaffe told The Times recently.

His parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded Preservation Hall on St. Peters Street in the Crescent City’s French Quarter more than half a century ago. They didn’t want the traditional sounds they loved so passionately to die with the veteran musicians who originated it.

“It’s acoustic jazz dance music,” said Jaffe, who is bringing the band to Indio for performances April 14 and 21. “When you think about it, jazz was always dance music. It’s what it was criticized for: being the devil’s music and getting kids excited.

“To us, that’s part of our culture in New Orleans,” added Jaffe, who noted that the Preservation Hall band is doing some experimenting of its own on the group’s new “So It Is” album, due April 21.

It contains seven new tracks reflecting the band’s recent travels through Cuba and pushes the ensemble in new musical directions. “It’s part of our identity, and to be able to bring that to a really big audience is so amazing to us as musicians and artists,” Jaffe said. “You feel like you’re really moving the earth.”

Besides, it’s not as if festival culture is foreign to the Preservation Hall band. Although its ramshackle namesake concert hall back home holds about 100 people at most, the group also is a regular at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where main stage acts can play to upward of 30,000 or 40,000 people.

“Once you see the band in that setting with those kids, when you see the band out there and see everybody dancing to it, it changes your view of what we’re involved in,” Jaffe said.

“We’re not just involved in moving the tradition forward. We’re creating a whole new movement. We’re at the center of something really, really special that’s been happening, that’s just bubbling on the stove and is ready to boil over, like a pot of spaghetti. It’s really something.”

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

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