At Harcum College's most recent Homecoming, Preservation Hall's Sandra Jaffe was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Alumni Board's highest honor. Below is an interview in Harcum's Patches Magazine:
For the love of Jazz
How 1958 Alumna Sandra Smolen Jaffe’s encounter with jazz inspired the creation of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, and fostered a life of culture and music By Suzanne Cotter, Patches: The Magazine for Alumni & Friends of Harcum College, Winter 2011
Raised in Wynnefield, PA, Sandra rode the train to Harcum every day - which dropped her off at the Bryn Mawr station right next to campus. She stud-ied Journalism and public relations, and eventually became involved in a myriad of activities and clubs. She served as the feature editor of the newspaper as well as a member of the yearbook staff, the Mobile staff, Campus Chest and Delta Psi Omega.
As she progressed, Sandra remembers quickly becoming involved in the arts. "I had never been an artist," she confesses. "Maybe I took an art class in high school, but that was really it. I decided to take an art class at Harcum with Martin Zipin, and suddenly found myself drawing every day It was absolutely marvelous," she recalls.
Sandra also starred in the play "Cry Havoc," which was performed in the Little Theatre. "I had no intention of being an actress, but I really enjoyed being involved in the production. It was hard work and I was often required to stay late. They were memorable moments," she recalls.
After graduating from Harcum in 1958, Sandra spent two years working at a Philadelphia-area advertising agency while attending classes at the University of Pennsylvania in the evenings. She met her husband Allan while watching a play in Fairmount Park. "He always insisted we had seen an Arthur Miller play, but I think it was Tennessee Williams ... it was a long- standing argument;" she Jokes.
Sandra and Allan soon married and drove down to Mexico City, where the couple lived for about a year. On their way back to Philadelphia, Allan suggested they make a pit-stop in New Orleans. "During his military service, before we met, Allan was stationed near Louisiana. On his weekends off he would travel to New Orleans," Sandra remembers. "He told me all about how lovely the French Quarter was, and that I absolutely had to see this place - that I would love it," she says.
As Sandra and Allan toured New Orleans, she recalls her introduction to authentic New Orleans jazz. They had been following musicians around for a few days, and ended up in an art studio which was hosting a small band performance. "When I heard the music for the first time, it felt like a total transformation. We found this whole new world ... the music was just so wonderful."
Upon seeing the band, Sandra and Allan decided to stay in New Orleans for a few more days - just enough time to hear-them play again. "Our parents were expecting us back in Philadelphia any day," she laughs, "but we just had to stay a little longer." That is, until the Jaffes were given an opportunity they couldn't turn down.
That evening, the owner told the couple the gallery would soon be moving, and that the space would be available if they wanted it. 'We didn't even think twice about it," Sandra recalls, "it wasn't even a thought. 'Of course,' we said, and that was the beginning of Preservation Hall' We never left New Orleans."
During the early months of 1961 and the beginning stages of Preservation Hall's creation, the Jaffes spent much of their time taking in all that the French Quarter had to offer, including music, food, and new people. "We only knew one person - one of my husbands fraternity brothers," Sandra says, "and I had never had anything fried before!" Preservation Hall was officially opened during the summer of 1961, and the venue welcomed retiring jazz musicians and enthusiastic patrons a few times a week.
As the space evolved and their following grew, Sandra and Allan began holding live sessions just about every night. "We had to start charging," she recalls, "and in order to get people to come out to our sessions, I relied on the skills I had learned in journalism. I had to make up schedules and use a press. Most of what I was doing was a reflection of what I had learned at Harcum and at my first job."
The Hall has since evolved to include the Preservation Hall Band, currently under the direction of Sandra's son Ben. The band has traveled worldwide, spreading its mission to nurture and perpetuate the art form that is New Orleans jazz. Whether performing at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, for British royalty or the King of Thailand, the band conveys a Joyful, timeless spirit.
Today, Preservation Hall is one of the highest -esteemed jazz performance venues in the country The space serves mainly as a musical sanctuary which aims to protect and honor New Orleans jazz, a style Jaffe hopes to preserve through her work.
In 2006, the Band received the National Medal of Arts Award. Ben and Sandy accepted the award from President George and Mrs. Laura Bush in an Oval Office ceremony on November 9 of that year. The citations reads: "With enormous talent and pride, thisageless ensemble has toured the world displaying the unbreakable spirit of New Orleans and sharing the joy of New Orleans jazz with us all."
During Harcum's most recent Homecoming, Sandra was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Alumni Boards highest honor, during a Creole-themed alumni tea at the President's house. 'The world has really changed for women," Sandra says, "and I was so happy to witness the wonderful things/hat have happened at Harcum over the years. It was also great to see the other honorees, and to hear about the success of such wonderful men and women."
Sandra explains that it feels great to see young people being introduced to jazz. She also says: "even for a Harcum student who happens to study in the health care field, for example, getting involved in something creative is invaluable. I totally encourage it.”
As the venue's 50th anniversary approaches, Sandra admits that she still loves the music: "I never get tired of it. There’s no way to leave a performance and not be happy after hearing such beautiful music. The fact that Preservation Hall is still there, and that there's still a place for music to be heard ... thats the most satisfying part."