At 84, Charlie Gabriel is helping to keep New Orleans music alive

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - One of the goals of Preservation Hall is just as its name says: preserving our music.  At 84 years old, Charlie Gabriel has done that all his life, and he's still going strong.

We recently got a chance to chat with Gabriel, and he treated  us to a few tunes on the piano, but most nights he's front and center on sax or clarinet with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Saxophonist Charlie Gabriel on stage with Wynton Marsalis (Charlie Gabriel)

Saxophonist Charlie Gabriel on stage with Wynton Marsalis (Charlie Gabriel)

Charlie is part of seven generations of Gabriel musicians.  He grew up on the outskirts of Treme, and as tastes for big bands and traditional tunes changed, he moved to Michigan.  Once there he played with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin and many others.

"The music changed," Charlie says. "It changed about three or four different times that I can recall, but the people named the music what they wanted. They might say it's one thing, but it's really the same music, the same seven notes but a different way of interpreting it."

Charlie Gabriel (WGNO-TV)

Charlie Gabriel (WGNO-TV)

The years away were fun and allowed Gabriel to play with everyone, but the call of our city was strong in his heart after the storm that changed us all.

"I came back to New Orleans because of Katrina. Katrina just knocked me off my feet, and I couldn't stand it. I knew New Orleans was hurting. I saw my whole city just floating away in front of my eyes. I can't express how I really feel because it hurts when I think about it," says Gabriel.

These days he delights in the joy of playing with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but he also credits director Ben Jaffe's efforts to keep the music going through education and outreach.

"The sweetest sound yet to be heard is in some young child's head," he says. "We have to feed them what it is. Ben is doing a good job, and I respect him for that."

Preservation Hall Jazz Band (WGNO-TV)

Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the Twist stage (WGNO-TV)

After more than seven decades of blowing his horns and thousands of miles on the road, Gabriel, who's also an accomplished songwriter, is enjoying himself now more than ever.

"I'm doing the things I like to do and what I love to do. The people motivate me and keep me motivated and keep me looking for better things in life with my music," he says.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was just added to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.