Sandra Jaffe, who ran one of New Orleans’ most famous jazz clubs for decades, dies at 83

(JTA) — Sandra Jaffe, a Jewish woman who, along with her husband, ran one of New Orleans’ most vaunted jazz clubs for decades and joined the club before segregation ended, has died last month at age 83.

Jaffe and her husband, Allan, were considered pioneers and protectors of jazz in the city that gave birth to the musical form, although they had landed in the city from Philadelphia as the musical style was threatened by new forms like rock and roll. Their club, Preservation Hall, has hosted well-known jazz musicians. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the club’s touring band, has recorded with major artists such as Pete Seeger, Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong.

“There’s no question that Preservation Hall saved New Orleans jazz,” George Wein, an influential jazz promoter who died earlier this year, told Vanity Fair in 2011 about 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 to hear a band playing jazz. The couple were fascinated by the music and decided to stay a few more days to hear the band play again.


“On their way back to Philadelphia, they stopped in New Orleans and, like others before and after, found themselves swept away in beauty, romance, excitement, mystery, freedom, ‘history, unstable business and city charm,’ the Jaffes’ son wrote in an obituary posted on the Preservation Hall website.

When they visited the gallery a few days later, owner Larry Borenstein told the couple he was moving the nearby gallery 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 lease the space and opened Preservation Hall in 1961.

“We didn’t come to New Orleans to start a business, or have Preservation Hall, or record the 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 would not return to work at the club until 1987, when Allan died of melanoma aged 51. Their second son, Ben, returned to work at the club after graduating from university in 1993.

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

Speaking to the Crescent Jewish Times, a local Jewish newspaper in New Orleans, about his involvement in a local Shabbat jazz festival in 2015, Ben Jaffe said his mother saw music as a way to bring communities together and her parents, both from observant Jewish communities. communities, valued the continuation of Jewish traditions.

“In many ways, it’s a continuation of my parents’ vision to unite communities through music,” he said.

Ben recalled his bar mitzvah at one of the local synagogues as “one of the most diverse bar mitzvahs ever attended for services in New Orleans” due to all the jazz musicians in attendance.

“We spent a lot of time in churches playing 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.

Sandra Jaffe, who ran one of New Orleans’ most famous jazz clubs for decades, dies at 83 appeared first on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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