Ben Jaffe, son of the late Allan Jaffe, spent some serious time hanging out at Preservation Hall, the historic jazz venue in New Orleans, while growing up. His father served as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's music director back in the day and Ben Jaffe currently serves as its music director.
The group has a remarkable history and continues to be a musical force, something that's recounted in the terrific new documentary, A Tuba to Cuba. The movie screens at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and at 9:45 p.m. on Friday at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.
"If you're from New Orleans, there's no question in your mind why this is the place where jazz was born," says Jaffe at the film's start. "I feel blessed to be born and raised here."
The film chronicles the group's first-ever trip to Cuba. Jaffe explains that his father always wanted to go to Cuba, but the American embargo stood in his way. "You can hear the influence of Cuban music on New Orleans music," Jaffe says prior to flying with the band to Havana.
When Jaffe sets foot on Cuban soil for the first time, he says the experience must've been similar to what his parents experienced when they initially arrived in New Orleans after moving from Pennsylvania. His parents sought to help impoverished jazz musicians, and he sees his trip to Cuba as a similar endeavor.
The film chronicles a crucial cultural interaction and includes terrific footage from the concert that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played with Cuban musicians.
The movie also has a plethora of heartwarming moments. Musicians in Cuba really struggle to get by, and one woman talks about how her family did without a refrigerator so that she could have a flute.
In another scene, the Preservation Hall guys donate instruments to a local school and spend a day hanging out with the young students. The Preservation Hall band also paid to have the neon sign at the theater that hosted their show restored. We get to see the sign light up for the first time. At one point on the trip, the band travels to Santiago to join up with a group of musicians there and jam in the city's streets.
At a time when divisive politics threaten to erect boundaries between people of different cultures, it's refreshing to see a film that chronicles all the good things that come from breaking down barriers.