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Ben Jaffe guides the widening world of New Orleans’ historic Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Ben Jaffe, far right, leads the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and runs the group’s namesake venue in New Orleans. (Sebastien Chaillot)

Ben Jaffe was born into Preservation Hall.

The musician’s parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded the now-historic New Orleans jazz venue — and its namesake band — in 1961.
“They were just a young 20-something couple who were looking for themselves, maybe, and found it in New Orleans,” Jaffe says. “They never really had the ambition of creating a full-blown institution.”

Jaffe’s dad played in the band, and, though he didn’t have a title, he ran the place. Jaffe took over day-to-day operations at 22, right after he finished college.

Now 44, Jaffe runs the organization as its creative director and plays bass and tuba in the touring Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Annually, the venue (an intimate, unamplified space in the French Quarter) hosts nearly 400 performances, the band plays about 100 gigs on the road and the Preservation Hall Foundation organizes hundreds of events through its youth outreach programs. (The band headlines the Birchmere on Aug. 13.)

“Just keeping up a spreadsheet of all of that is a full-time job,” Jaffe says. “When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a musician. That’s how I approach business — as a musician. But it’s been interesting for me to walk that very narrow tightrope between business and the creative world.”

Under Jaffe’s leadership, Preservation Hall has crossed over into the pop and rock world, hitting the festival circuit and collaborating with such bands as My Morning Jacket, Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire.

The band, which has a rotating cast of players that range in age from 30 to 90, continues to make new music (My Morning Jacket’s Jim James produced the group’s 2013 album, “That’s It!”) and Jaffe, for his part, works tirelessly to keep the spirit of his family’s business alive.

“Preservation Hall is not a bar and it’s not a nightclub,” Jaffe says. “It’s a music venue, it’s a salon and it’s a gallery. It’s a place where the community gathers. It’s a model that people can learn a lot from — far beyond the music that takes place there. The music is like the little cherry on top of this beautiful experience.”

Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m., $35.

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