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Keeping up with Altmans: Reagan Orloff Researches Preservation Hall

November 19, 2018 5:30 PM

Reagan at the PBS film shoot

Reagan at the PBS film shoot.


Altman sophomore Reagan Orloff has been making the most of her research opportunities this semester. A History major, Reagan is taking a Writing Biography course this semester with Professor Walter Isaacson in which she was tasked with researching a historical New Orleans figure and writing a biographical paper. She chose to write about Sandra and Allan Jaffe, founders of the music venue Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Reagan has researched the hall extensively and was granted a one-on-one interview with Sandra Jaffe. Reagan wrote an article about her interview with Sandra Jaffe that was published in the History Department newsletter, which you can read below.

Reagan with Sandra Jaffe of Preservation Hall

Reagan with Sandra Jaffe

Reagan also contributed questions to an interview Professor Isaacson held with New Orleans musician Ben Jaffe, the current creative director of Preservation Hall and Sandra Jaffe's son. Reagan was able to attend the filming of the interview and sat in on a post-interview debrief with Professor Isaacson and Ben Jaffe. The interview aired on “Amanpour & Company,” a public affairs series on PBS.

We can't wait to see where Reagan's research takes her next!

Read Reagan's entire article below:

"This semester, I am taking the Writing Biography course taught by Walter Isaacson. The class objective is to choose a historical New Orleans figure to research extensively and then write about in a final biographical paper. The subjects of my classmates’ biographies range from political figures to Storyville legends, reflecting the rich and complicated history of New Orleans.

"For my paper, I chose Sandra and Allan Jaffe, the couple who founded Preservation Hall in 1961. Since beginning the course, I have made amazing progress in not only my research but in my understanding of the Jaffes’ significant legacy.  I’ve spent hours searching through the Preservation Hall archives, which as of now are several storage units filled from floor to ceiling with sources ranging from handwritten letters to vacation photographs. Other useful resources include the Hogan Jazz Archives and Times-Picayune online archives. I have visited the Hall itself several times, speaking with current employees and musicians who have been performing at the Hall for decades. I believe the interviews I have conducted so far have been the most enlightening. For example, Ben Jaffe, who currently operates the Hall, has been a valuable resource to understand the personalities of and anecdotes about Sandra and Allan, his parents.

"My most exciting research milestone so far was arranging an interview with Sandra Jaffe herself. Having been retired from the Hall since the passing of her husband, I have been told this is the first solo interview to which Sandra has agreed. She visited New Orleans a few weekends ago, and I sat with her in the back office of Preservation Hall, which used to be the apartment where her and Allan lived, listening to her incredible stories. From the couple’s spontaneous move to New Orleans, to their opening of an integrated jazz hall, to their active advocacy for civil rights, Sandra’s recount of her life made it clear that Preservation Hall was more than just a music venue; it was an institution that cared about the musicians as well. At the time these jazz musicians were internationally known yet living in the segregated south, where they were barely second-class citizens. Preservation Hall empowered these musicians rather than exploiting them. Sandra and Allan provided a space for these artists to perform with dignity and earn a respectable wage, and in doing so they helped New Orleans jazz survive to present day.

"I am extremely grateful for all the lessons this course has already taught me and the confidence it has instilled in me as a historian and a writer; I hope to continue researching and documenting Preservation Hall even after the semester is over, perhaps extending it to become an Honors thesis."

Post-interview debrief with Reagan, Ben Jaffe, and Walter Isaacson

Reagan sits in on a post-interview debrief with Walter Isaacson and Ben Jaffe.