It's hard to live in the United States without hearing the song "When The Saints Go Marching In." It's quintessential New Orleans traditional jazz and germane to all that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band stands for.

Like "The Star-Spangled Banner," the song has been performed by multitudes of artists, some better than others. But if you've never heard it done by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, well, you may want to consider buying a ticket for the iconic band's performance tonight (Thursday) at Carmel's Sunset Center Theater.

While there's no guarantee the current lineup of the touring band named after the Preservation Hall in New Orleans will actually perform the song (but it's likely), there's no mistaking the style of music you'll be hearing if you can hum that melody.

Led by Ben Jaffe, the son of original founders of the hall Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the rotating roster of a roughly eight-member ensemble are worldwide ambassadors of the early jazz style that still has an important presence in New Orleans.

Since 1993 when he was just 22 years old, bassist, tuba and banjo player Jaffe has carried the torch his parents lit and he's extremely proud to be doing so.

"I was very fortunate to grow up in this environment," he said in an email interview while taking a break from touring. "I was surrounded by music! We lived just around the corner from Preservation Hall. I spent most of my childhood there. It was my school.


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A recent appearance at New York City's venerable Carnegie Hall celebrated 50 years of musical excellence emanating from the old building at 726 St. Peter Street in NOLA's French Quarter.

A diverse array of musicians joined the group throughout the special evening, showing respect for one of our great institutions of musical excellence.

Among those paying tribute were Blind Boys of Alabama, the Del McCoury Band, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Steve Earle, Mos Def, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Allen Toussaint and George Wein.

"Finding common threads that connect different cultural arts is a great joy," Jaffe said when asked about the collaborative recording, "American Legacies," made with bluegrass traditionalists The Del McCoury Band. "It takes quite a bit of work and isn't always musically successful or rewarding. Meeting Mr. McCoury was a life-changer. It opened my eyes to a whole other cultural tradition that on the surface seems to share nothing with New Orleans jazz. You dig a little deeper and you discover Del and his sons and Preservation Hall are carrying the same cultural torch."

Whether performing at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, for British Royalty or the King of Thailand, this music embodies a joyful, timeless spirit.

Yet, traditional New Orleans jazz has always held court in all aspects of life, happy or sad, throughout its history. It's heard in the streets, halls, clubs, bars and homes of those who call the Crescent City home.

"We do play at funerals," Jaffe explained. "And the processions are very mournful. That is a major ingredient in our music. It's about honoring the deceased and celebrating their lives. It may sound strange to someone not from New Orleans, but funerals are one of the most beautiful things in the world. Everyone in the neighborhood comes out and creates a procession that parades through the streets. It's an amazing tradition to be a part of."

The building that houses Preservation Hall has housed many businesses over the years, including a tavern during the War of 1812, a photo studio, and an art gallery.

It was during the years of the art gallery that then-owner Larry Borenstein, began holding informal jam sessions for his close friends. Out of these sessions grew the concept of Preservation Hall.

The intimate venue, whose weathered exterior has been untouched over its history, (except for some battering by Hurricane Katrina, but it still stands) is a living embodiment of its original vision.

To this day, as described on the band's website, Preservation Hall has no drinks, air conditioning or other typical accoutrements, strictly welcoming people of all ages interested in having one of the last pure music experiences left on the earth.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band began touring in 1963, and for many years there were several bands successfully touring under the name Preservation Hall.

Many of the band's charter members performed with the pioneers who invented jazz in the early 20th century, including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Bunk Johnson.

Even though the tradition is being carried on into the future, the current lineup enjoys bringing its own twist to the music, infusing the time-honored rhythms with modern sensibilities, brought through the bloodlines that course through the band's history.

"Each of the band members come from old New Orleans families," Jaffe explained. "Our trumpeter, Mark Braud, is a fourth-generation musician. Both his uncles played with Preservation Hall. Mark brings a youthful approach to an old tradition. When he plays, you can hear Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Stevie Wonder and Buddy Bolden!

"In NOLA, we're all connected," he continued. "Everyone knows everyone else and their business. It's one of the key elements that makes NOLA so unique. You can show up for a parade and Shorty will be there with his older brother and Ellis Marsalis may be inside playing piano. It's a beautiful life and one I do want to pass onto my children.(My wife is four months pregnant.)"

Also, according to Jaffe, there are some other big announcements coming soon. One he was very excited to share is that a Preservation Hall West will be opening in San Francisco later this year.

"We have a long history with Carmel and the Bay Area," he said. "The area has always been one of the most appreciative of what we do. Not only is it culturally important, but most importantly, it's a good time!"

Beth Peerless can be reached at peerless@mbay.net. GO!


CONCERT
·What: Preservation Hall Jazz Band in concert; Malinda DeRouen opens
·Where: Sunst Center, Ninth Avenue and San Carlos Street, Carmel
·When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2
·Tickets: $39, $49, $59, available at the Box Office at 620-2048 or online at www.sunsetcenter.org
·Information: www.sunsetcenter.org