A small, wooden sign hanging over an iron-gated door is all that distinguishes Preservation Hall from any other nondescript doorway along the dirty streets of the French Quarter of New Orleans. For a city with such character, this is the last place you would expect to house one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs.
Like any other spot in the French Quarter, the place comes with an assorted history. The location itself is storied, dating back to its first days in 1809 as a pub. It’s also been home to a private drawing room, a tinsmith’s shop, an art gallery, and a photographer’s studio. The real gem, though, is when the music began filling the space.
Preservation Hall started as a mere ploy to get more customers into an art gallery. In the mid-50s art dealer, Larry Borenstein began hosting informal jazz sessions in his art gallery hoping to draw more people into his space. In 1961, newlywed couple and jazz enthusiasts Allan and Sandra Jaffe took over the space from Borenstein and Preservation Hall was born.
Before we delve into what Preservation Hall is, it helps to know what it isn’t: large, spacious, clean, wired for sound, or air-conditioned. It’s just a single room with old, creaking floorboards, a few benches, and faded, peeling walls. It’s here, in this noble decadence, where New Orlean’s jazz holds court.
There are three shows a night here, 8, 9, and 10, performed by the Preservation Hall Band or from a collection of New Orlean’s finest jazz musicians when the band is touring. This small, dusty room that attracts crowds every night has been credited by many as saving New Orleans jazz.
People line St. Peter Street every night waiting to hear authentic New Orleans jazz. Few of them are locals and most haven’t a clue as to what to expect. But they still come. The reality is that if Preservation Hall moved to a larger location they could hold more people and technically make more money, but it wouldn’t be real. The dream would die with any attempt to change it. People flock here because they want to hear the best New Orleans jazz in its most authentic, intimate form. And that’s exactly what’s delivered.
The real treasure of something isn’t in its infinite scalability but in the intimate relationship between the art and its recipient. This relationship is the war of art – between oneself, and others, fighting to convince each party that this is something worth doing. Figuring out this equation for yourself or for your business keeps you from adopting the uniformity seen everywhere and can make even the bleakest looking buildings come alive.