Big black and white letters that spelled out “Preservation Hall New Orleans” made the jazz band’s sousaphone hard to miss. That was, at least, until it went missing.
“If you’re trying to identify the sound of the tuba in one of our recordings or when you hear us live, you listen to the low end,” tuba player Ben Jaffe says. “You listen for the bass, you listen for the bottom, the thing that carries the band. It’s the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of the band.”
Now, a little more than two weeks after the band announced the iconic sousaphone was stolen, the fundamental instrument is back in the group’s possession.
Jaffe says the instrument went missing just after a performance at the Music Box, a venue in the city.
“We were packing up our vehicle, it was late at night, and I guess none of us were really paying close attention, but somewhere during this span of 45 minutes the Preservation Hall tuba disappeared,” he says.
When they realized it was missing they searched all the obvious places, but couldn’t find it, so they decided to reach out to the community for help — and it worked.
“Someone who had read the newspaper spotted the horn and contacted us anonymously and through that tip we were able to retrieve the instrument,” Jaffe says.
Like with many musicians, Jaffe’s horn has special meaning to him.
“I purchased my horn shortly after Hurricane Katrina,” Jaffe says. “I lost my instruments in Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.”
After that Jaffe says the tuba “just became a part of me.”
“It’s traveled the world several times with me. It’s played on all of our recordings. It’s been on all of our concerts,” he says. “Every little nick and ding on that horn has a story behind it from a different place in the world, a different memory.”
The Preservation Hall tuba was returned on Monday.
“I spent the day cleaning the horn and getting the valves working again,” Jaffe says. “There was some damage to the valves and there was some damage that I’m going to have to ship the horn to a specialist to have it overhauled, but I got the horn into playing condition.”
Selena Simmons-Duffin and Matt Ozug of All Things Considered produced and edited the audio for this story.