Sandra Jaffe, who ran New Orleans’ famous Preservation Hall jazz clubs for decades, 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, has died last month at 83.

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’ son wrote 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.

According to the obituary posted on the Preservation Hall website, the club was the first integrated hall in New Orleans, in defiance of Jim Crow laws still in effect before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Talk to Crescent Jewish Times, a local New Orleans Jewish newspaper, Regarding his involvement in a local Jazz Fest Shabbat in 2015, Ben Jaffe said his mother saw music as a way to bring communities together and his parents, both from practicing Jewish communities, valued the continuation 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 in 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.


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