Preservation Hall has named esteemed New Orleans jazz trumpeter Wendell Brunious as its first-ever musical director.
Brunious, 68, will supervise the repertoire of traditional jazz performed at the French Quarter venue, which was founded in 1961. He'll serve as ambassador for its affiliated nonprofit, the Preservation Hall Foundation, and maintain relationships with the 60-odd musicians in the Preservation Hall Collective while also recruiting fresh talent.
He’ll work closely Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe, son of the venue’s founders, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, while also continuing to perform.
“It is with great respect and passion that I accept this important position,” Brunious said in a statement. “Preservation Hall is the most important venue in the world for Traditional Jazz and I feel very privileged to have been asked to be its first Musical Director.
“I look forward to working closely with Ben Jaffe and the Preservation Hall Foundation, making sure that the integrity and highest quality of this art form is around for many generations to come.”
Brunious hails from a family of musicians in the 7th Ward. His father was John “Picket” “Picky” Brunious Sr., a Juilliard-educated pianist, trumpeter and composer who arranged music for the likes of Billy Eckstine and Cab Calloway. His mother was Nazimova “Chinee” Santiago, the niece of guitarist and banjoist Willie Santiago. His late brother John Brunious was a Preservation Hall bandleader.
Wendell first picked up the trumpet at age 11. He made his Preservation Hall debut in 1978 at age 23. Five years later, he became the youngest bandleader in the Hall’s history.
Early in his career he joined the Olympia Brass Band under the direction of his cousin Harold Dejan. He apprenticed with banjoist Danny Barker, whom he met as a Southern University student. He and another mentor, guitarist Justin Adams, initiated the jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace in the 1970s.
He also spent time on Bourbon Street, after drummer Herlin Riley helped him land a gig at the 500 Club. Brunious would later be best man at Riley’s wedding.
Over the years, Brunious has worked with the Dirty Dozen and Tuxedo brass bands, Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry and many others. He was the bandleader the night Preservation Hall reopened in June 2021 following the pandemic lockdown.
”Mr. Brunious reflects an incredibly valuable family history and possesses both tangible and intangible qualities that make him entirely unique as a musician and elder statesperson,” Ben Jaffe said.
“His dedication and lifetime commitment to his craft, in addition to his personal story, are both beautiful and singular. I have the highest regard and respect for Mr. Brunious as a musician’s musician. He is a son of this sacred tradition and a library of information and knowledge. We are all fortunate to have Mr. Brunious fulfilling such an important role