Preservation Hall is a jazz hall in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In 1961, Allan and Sandra Jaffe were brought on as managers of the historic destination. Their appreciation for jazz led them to hire many older musicians who had been pioneers or innovative in their heyday. The house band was eventually hired as members of the Olympia Brass Band which, along with the regular tours they held, would go on to influence everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is still going strong to this day, with Allan and Sandra’s son, Ben Jaffe playing the double bass and tuba for them.
A Tuba To Cuba details the band’s famed history, but its main focus is right there in the title. According to Ben Jaffe, it was always his dad’s dream to discover New Orleans’s musical roots by traveling to Cuba. Going on the unprecedented trip is the current line-up of the band, including the aforementioned Jaffe, there’s Charlie Gabriel on both the saxophone and clarinet, Clint Maedgen is also a saxophone player, playing drums is Walter Harris, Ronell Johnson plays the trombone, on trumpet is Branden Lewis, and finally Kyle Roussel playing piano.
“…his dad’s dream to discover New Orleans’s musical roots by traveling to Cuba.”
As the band travels Cuba, they encounter locals playing in the streets and jam with them. The jazz band plays a few venues and travel to famed musical hotspots. At each junction is illustrated with more of Jaffe’s personal connection to the music via his dad is unearthed tunes and the history of music in Cuba. One of the most interesting tidbits is about chekeré, the Cuban version of the traditional West African shekere. It is made by hollowing a dried gourd and then a mesh netting with intricate bead detailed is applied. When Africans were brought to Cuba as slaves, to worship and play music without attracting attention, this percussion instrument is what they played instead of the drums.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band learn of a club just hours away from where they currently are staying, but they make the trek. Why? Because this place exclusively plays jazz records. As they share in the groove, the musicians are delighted to see jazz being celebrated and appreciated across the ocean. This is made all the more impressive considering certain styles of music were not always easy to obtain in communist Cuba.
“Jaffe’s quest to fulfill his father’s dream and in how music brings so many generations from all walks of life together.”
Of course, this lines up with the reason for the trip. The similarities between the styles of music are as apparent as their differences. The film does an excellent job of bringing that to light through creative editing and brilliant sound design. The heart of the film lies in two places; Jaffe’s quest to fulfill his father’s dream and in how music brings so many generations from all walks of life together. The sweetest moment comes when the band members visit musically inclined students at their school. They give the students their own instruments, which is a big deal.
Growing up all over the world as I did, I was fascinated with every new culture I encountered. Not just by the things that each new place had in common with the other countries, but also by all the differences. A Tuba To Cuba understands these same-differences is where humanity is at its best. The documentary is a life-affirming piece of filmmaking that will paint a smile on your face and leave a song in your heart.
A Tuba To Cuba (2019) Directed by T.G. Herrington, Danny Clinch. Written by T.G. Herrington. Starring Ben Jaffe, Charlie Gabriel, Clint Maedgen, Walter Harris, Ronell Johnson, Branden Lewis, Kyle Roussel, Régine Chassagne.
8 out of 10 stars Musical Notes