Who taught you the most?
For me, that’s impossible to count.
But Alan Jaffe taught me many important lessons that help me entertain people at weddings, parties, and other celebrations.
Three of these lessons might help you, too. I’ll describe them in a minute.
But first, no, I don’t mean the well-known actor, or the physician, or thousands of others with his name. I mean Alan Jaffe, the musician and entrepreneur. His vision, imagination, and determination helped re-kindle the world’s enthusiasm for traditional New Orleans jazz.
One of my main inspirations, Alan taught me a lot about managing a business. He and the other musicians in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band also taught me a lot about playing in a band and entertaining people.
In 1961 Alan and his wife, Sandra, with several friends, helped transform a small New Orleans art gallery into Preservation Hall, where aging local musicians played their unique joyful, soulful music. A student of music and of business (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School), Alan Jaffe made Preservation Hall a hugely successful business, dedicated to preserving and spreading New Orleans’ musical tradition.
Have you ever had the good fortune to enjoy one of the band’s performances? Until 1987, when Alan died, he played tuba with the band, at home and on tour worldwide.
I met Alan Jaffe in 1975, and we remained good friends for the next dozen years. That first time, I was just becoming acquainted with the New Orleans style and decided to visit Preservation Hall, to see and hear for myself what this music was all about.
We hit it off when we first met. Alan was welcoming and gracious, helping me find my way around, taking me places, encouraging my discoveries, introducing me to musicians and colleagues, asking me dozens of question, and answering hundreds of mine. Alan was always curious and thoughtful, and he often spoke in bursts with noticeable pauses, as though his voice simply couldn’t keep up with his imagination.
Alan knew many people everywhere, and he was continually working on probably dozens of business proposals at any time. Still, whenever he spoke with you, he gave you his full attention. Everyone developed their own relationship with him. Each was a little different I’m sure, but most people admired him and enjoyed his company.
I was studying at Stanford in the mid 1970s, and every summer the band’s tour visited northern California. They played at least one performance on campus and several more in nearby cities. My wife and I often traveled with them while they were here — talking, eating, enjoying our friendships and their wonderful music. What fun!
On the band’s days off, Alan and I (sometimes with Sandra and their sons, Russell and Benji) would spend hours walking around San Francisco, talking and occasionally playing cornet and tuba duets all over town.
Both of us were John Philip Sousa fans since high school. A friend took this 1980 picture of us in San Francisco’s Union Square. Thanks for the photo, Jean Uppman.
Through the mid 1980s, my wife and I visited Alan and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band musicians a few times every year, especially around Christmas time, when everyone would be home from touring.
Over thousands of conversations, what has Alan Jaffe taught me? Hundreds of things, I’m sure. Let me describe three that relate to wedding and party music.
1. Be an example and treat people well.
Alan loved and admired the music and the musicians he worked with, and it showed. And so did the result. I’ve learned to be helpful and generous, with compassion and thoughtfulness. Most people treat me the same way. This applies to working with my clients and also my colleagues. Everyone involved in producing and enjoying a celebration is part of a team, and success depends on everyone’s teamwork.
2. Persevere and be confident of your success.
Preservation Hall in 1961 is a good example. Tough times greet every beginning, but vision, planning, determination (and some luck) usually bring success. If not, you can always start over. Ultimately, if you can imagine it, nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable. This applies not only to how I help people plan the music for their celebrations, but also to how I develop new plans in my own business.
3. Be thoughtful and optimistic.
Alan Jaffe always spoke about what’s in store for Preservation Hall. No matter the specifics, he showed the virtue of thinking your plans through. In other words, imagining your plans in action and anticipating the consequences.
Furthermore, his thinking was optimistic. Whether we talked about music, or food, or traveling, or relating with people, or taking care of business, Alan could always find something to admire in everything. Which I think is a very useful attitude as we go through life, in general, and from day to day, in particular.
Nowadays, whenever I help people plan their music, we consider everything. In other words, no matter how wrong-headed an idea may seem at first, there’s usually a gem hidden inside, and we’re smart to be looking for it. Of course, another idea might seem so brilliant from the start, that we fail to notice the flaw hidden inside.
YOUR turn. Who influenced your career? What did they teach you?
The Magnolia Jazz Band entertains at weddings and parties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are ever nearby, you’ll love catching us in action, seeing and hearing us create a great mood.
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