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    The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is bringing New Orleans-style jazz to Louisville for a performance on the Belle of Louisville July 15. The original songs on the band’s latest album, So It Is, were the result of a visit to Cuba for the Havana Jazz Festival in 2015. Bandleader, tuba player and bassist Ben Jaffe says the band felt like missionaries on their trip to this “cultural and musical mecca,” and their profound experience with their musical counterparts in Cuba led to songs that are both Cuban-inspired and deeply rooted in New Orleans’ jazz tradition.

    It’s not the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s first trip to Louisville. They’ve performed in the city multiple times, and they have played and recorded with Louisville’s My Morning Jacket. In preparation for their upcoming visit, we decided to ask Jaffe about his perspective on the city and quiz him on his knowledge of Louisville and Kentucky. 

     

    Louisville Magazine: Can you describe your past experience in Louisville? 

    Ben Jaffe: We’ve passed through and spent some time there with Jim James and the members of My Morning Jacket. If we’re somewhere in the country and we’re passing through Louisville, we’ll let them know. Most of our experiences have been hanging out with our friends there—Jim James, Patrick [Hallahan] and Kevin Ratterman are like family to us, so getting to spend time with them is the best. 

     

    Where’d you go? 

    Getting to go to La La Land, the studio — it’s where Ray LaMontagne recorded his record — it was very memorable to us. 

     

    How do you pronounce Louisville?

    I say Looeville.

     

    What comes to mind when you think of Kentucky? Of Louisville?

    I think of rolling hills and big, lush, stately farms. Since getting to know some people [in Louisville], I’ve gotten to know a community of musicians there. I’m always interested in communities that retain their identity. One of the things I could also relate to was people who were born, raised and live in the city that they’re from. I can identify with that, because that’s me. I felt like a kindred spirit there. You know — community pride.

     

    Have you ever had a hot brown?

    I have not had one, but it’s interesting to me that so many cities have sandwiches or things that city identifies with, and then every time someone comes to town — like you never eat one until someone comes to visit, and you’re like, we have to go get this. We have that in New Orleans too — we have Po’ boys down here. There’s even a place that does a hot roast beef sandwich, and it’s one of those things where you don’t eat it on a regular basis, but you know it’s there. 

     

    Are there any other musicians that you associate with Louisville?

    Is Bonnie “Prince” Billy from Louisville? I don’t know if he is or not. If he’s not he should be. (Yep, he's ours. —Ed.

     

    Have you ever been to the Kentucky Derby?

    No, I haven’t, but people keep telling me I should go. It looks a lot like Mardi Gras to me. 

     

    How old is a Derby horse? They’re all the same age.

    They are two or four, I think. (Shot all around the bull's-eye. They’re three. —Ed.)

     

    What is the distance of the Kentucky Derby?

    Is it a mile? It’s got to be more than a mile, because they run fast. Plus a mile is not that far around. (Close; it's a mile and a quarter. —Ed.)

     

    Can you name any Kentucky Derby winners?

    I can’t, but I’ll bet you I can make up a name real quick. I love horse names. They’re hilarious. Let me make one up: Last Stag Standing.

     

    I'd put my money on that horse. Have you ever had a mint julep?

    Is that a Louisville thing or a New Orleans thing? Because they’re popular down here too. I haven’t had one. (It's a Southern thing; the association with Derby goes back to the 1820s. —Ed.)

     

    What’s a gelding?

    It sounds like some denomination of money. (It’s a castrated horse. —Ed.)

     

    What’s burgoo? 

    It sounds like something you would go to the doctor for. (We've got nothing to add. —Ed.)

     

    What’s a foal?

    Isn’t it a horse? Like a young horse?

     

    How long is a furlong?

    I don’t know. How big is a hectare? (One hundred acres, Jaffe. And a furlong is 220 yards. Can't stump Google us! —Ed.)

     

    What’s a pawpaw?

    A pawpaw? In New Orleans that’s what we call grandparents. 

     

    Does anywhere else remind you of Louisville?

    There’s something that all cities that are on water share. It’s hard to put your finger on, but there’s a certain industry that revolves around being around water. There’s a certain kind of trade — a transience, a coming and going of people. There’s something new arriving and something new leaving everyday. There’s like this highway, this water highway that passes through your town. It introduces culture, it imports culture and it exports culture, because of the nature of what it is and what it does. The Mississippi River ends down here in New Orleans, and all the cities that are located along the Mississippi are like branches. We are all connected by that water. I believe that energy travels through water and that all of us are linked together.

     

    Cover photo by Danny Clinch

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