On Sunday, the band closed the festival’s Gentilly Stage with friends including Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, the Rebirth Brass Band and Jazz Fest founder George Wein.
In a rare performance, the 86-year-old Wein introduced the band then played piano on their opening number – “Basin Street Blues.” He got a rousing ovation after the song ended and he left the stage.
All of the performers then joined the band on stage for the finale.
The French Quarter-based music venue was founded in 1961 to protect and honor New Orleans jazz.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on its closing weekend, marked the anniversary by showcasing the world-renowned band in concert twice.
Hall director Ben Jaffe, the son of founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe, said his parents’ goal was to make sure New Orleans’ unique musical traditions would be kept alive.
“Fifty years later, we’re not too much different,” Jaffe said. “The faces may be a bit different, but the experience is not tremendously different.”
“It’s important that the Preservation Hall people keep playing,” added Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. “Times have changed, but the spirit and feel remain the same.”
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s members include 79-year-old clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, a fourth-generation musician; trombonist Frank Desmond, also 79; pianist Rickie Monie, 60; drummer Joseph Lastie Jr., 53; saxophonist Clint Maedgen, 42, on tuba; Jaffe, 41; and trumpeter Mark Braud, 38.
“New Orleans music is passed on through its traditions, with younger players learning from older ones,” Jaffe said. “That remains central to our mission and even today, 50 years later, it’s a continuing goal to cast a spotlight on the old and young that’s very much alive.”
“I have so much respect for them as musicians and for what they do,” said Toussaint, 74, who at one time was the band’s opening act. “It’s a wonderful thing for our city and the world.”
On Saturday, the band performed in the Economy Hall tent, the festival’s traditional jazz venue.
Jaffe has been criticized by some for moving the band away from its traditional roots into different musical genres through collaborations with artists such as rapper Mos Def and rockers Lenny Kravitz and My Morning Jacket.
“I think when you talk of change, it’s a part of the evolution of our traditions,” he said in an interview. “Keeping any cultural tradition alive must reflect the generation of today or it will die. We generally play almost the same set that we have been playing. What changes most is the audience more than anything else.
“I think it’s important to find a way to pay respect to the past while still balancing and staying true to yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to leave your own imprint on the music.”