NEW ORLEANS – THE BIRTHPLACE OF JAZZ
Jazz didn’t appear overnight, it wasn’t invented by a single genius. It is the product of the collective and sustained creativity of many generations of people, the search for new ideas and borrowing from many cultures. Jazz grew and developed in many different places in the United States. Black people who performed such music lived in many American cities: Atlanta and Baltimore, Kansas City and St. Louis, which was the center of ragtime, and Memphis was home to William Christopher Handy, the “father of the blues.
Some historians believe that it was New Orleans that became the cradle of jazz; the city was the ideal place for the birth of jazz music because it had a unique, open and free social atmosphere.
As far back as the early nineteenth century, the port of New Orleans (Louisiana), located in the Mississippi River delta, which until 1803 belonged to Napoleonic France and was famous for its democratic traditions, gathered people from different countries and walks of life. People flocked to New Orleans in search of a better fortune and a life of ease. The new lands also attracted restless adventurers, adventurers and gamblers, exiles and fugitives from justice. They were of all nationalities: French, Spanish, German, English, Irish, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Italian, African. New Orleans was the most cosmopolitan and musical city in the New World. It was a port city where ships carrying slaves came in from the west and north coasts of Africa. New Orleans was the main center of the slave trade, with the largest slave markets in the United States. It was the descendants of people considered “living commodities” who would create the most American of all the arts: jazz. One of the passionate admirers of jazz, the famous actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood once noted that Americans have truly enriched world culture with two things – the Western and jazz.
The whole idea of improvisation, which is the essence of jazz, is inextricably linked to the lives of American slaves who had to learn to survive in harsh conditions. But the main dream of black Americans has always been freedom! The American writer Earley said that the essence of jazz is freedom! This music speaks of liberation. Of course, there were enough other peoples in the United States of America, those who were treated very cruelly and unfairly. But only black Americans were slaves, only they have a historical consciousness of what it means to be unfree in a free country.
White slave owners did not encourage slaves’ amateur musical creativity, but they understood that if “living goods” were not given at least a breath of fresh air, they might die or revolt. In 1817, New Orleans slaves were allowed once a week, on Sundays, to gather in Congo Square, singing and dancing. White New Orleanians sometimes went there to watch black Americans sing and dance to the sound of drums. The work of African-American freelancers was marked by their national cultures. The infectious rhythms of Caribbean tunes were heard in the music of slaves brought from the West Indies. The labor songs of the cotton plantations, rice and tobacco fields were sung by slaves brought from the interior of the American South, and slaves from the northern part of America sang spirituals with the repartee characteristic of Baptist church sermons.
In New Orleans, contrary to the “Black Code” (1724), which forbade mixed marriages between whites and coloreds, national and racial mixing gradually occurred. The city was home to a community of free people who called themselves colored creoles. They were lighter-skinned than African Negroes, the descendants of European colonists and their dark-skinned wives and mistresses. The Creoles, among whom there were even slaveholders and the wealthy, saw themselves as heirs to European musical culture and were proud of it. Creoles played a positive role in the cultural life of New Orleans. French and Creoles established an opera house, several symphony orchestras, and social clubs in the city. The opera house’s repertoire consisted of works by French and Italian composers. New Orleans theaters also played minstrel music. Shows traveled all over America and looked, of course, to New Orleans.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, citizens of all colors in New Orleans loved to hear the many semi-symphonic and outdoor orchestras. Marching brass bands were especially popular. And there were plenty of occasions on the streets of New Orleans: weddings, funerals, church festivals. And every spring, Mardi Gras (i.e., “Fat Tuesday”), a merry festival held before Lent as a grand, colorful carnival with parades, demonstrations, picnics, and concerts. All this action was accompanied by the music of marching brass bands.
Clarence Williams (1898-1965), pianist, singer, composer, and music publisher recalled, “Yes, New Orleans was always a very musical city. During the big Mardi Gras holidays and at Christmas, all the houses were open, and there was dancing everywhere. Every house was open to you, and you could walk through any door, eat, drink, and join the company there.”  .
As early as the eighteenth century Capuchin and Jesuit monasteries sprang up in New Orleans. The Roman Catholic Church created conditions for a certain rapprochement of the races and a gradual interpenetration of their cultural traditions. The ethnically diverse city was, in a sense, a romantic and musical city. Life here was open, as it often was in southern cities. A wide variety of people, with their own habits and ethnic characteristics, could live in the same neighborhood. Music for the inhabitants of the city was the environment that accompanied all events, all life, being a fusion of Italian, French, Spanish, English and African musical cultures.
The city was not without another New Orleans tradition of gambling and vice. The gamblers and lovemongers who lived in Story Villa encouraged the flourishing of gambling and brothels for all tastes and pockets. Cabarets, saloons, dance halls, barreling houses, and honky-tonks – small cabarets and taverns – operated around the clock. The clientele of these low-class, dubious places of entertainment was mostly poor African-Americans, the underclass, and other motley folk. And in every joint there was music.
And next to it, there was a frenetic piety and a voodoo cult with its rituals: ancestor worship, sacrifices, “zombie powder,” magic, and ceremonial dances imported by black slaves from Haiti. Ritual voodoo dances were performed at the legendary Congo Square and in front of the city gates until 1900. New Orleans could be considered the center of witchcraft and magic. The most famous voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, also lived here in the second half of the 19th century. And it was all mixed up in such a multi-layered city, where people had to understand and interact with each other if they were neighbors.
On January 26, 1861, the state of Louisiana, where New Orleans was located, broke away from the Union due to the North-South War. The American Civil War did not do the Southerners any good. Fifteen months later, however, the Union fleet entered New Orleans harbor and the city was forced to surrender. To the black inhabitants of the southern city, where slavery had taken its cruelest and most subtle forms in those years, this occupation brought the long-awaited freedom that slaves had dreamed of. The emergence of jazz was a unique burst of creative energy from oppressed people and only became possible after the abolition of slavery (1863). This music was born in the minds of people whom society had not previously perceived as full-fledged Americans, although they did not become less American because they lived in this country.
For twelve years after the end of the American Civil War of the North and South (1861-1865), during the Reconstruction era, northerners enforced order in the South. But in 1877, after a backroom deal between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats, federal troops were withdrawn from America’s southern territories. Without the army’s support, the Reconstruction era was over. Although slavery was officially abolished, the “white masters of life” were everywhere enforcing power with an “iron hand. (It should be noted that white supremacy in the United States would be pervasive for another hundred years.) The Ku Klux Klan (a far-right terrorist nationalist organization of whites who advocated white supremacy over blacks and immigrants in extremist ways) grew rapidly, Lynch trials (killing someone suspected of a crime or a violation of social customs without trial or investigation) became commonplace. Segregation (segregation of the population by skin color, a kind of racism) became the law of life; and some wit called this system “Jim Crow law” (after the first minstrel performance of “Daddy Rice”). New Orleans, proud of its cosmopolitanism and democracy, resisted this system for a time, but then had to give up, though the musical life of the city had not faded.
At the end of the 19th century, New Orleans was introduced to two new musical genres without which jazz would simply not exist. These were ragtime and blues. Ragtime, incorporating folk African and European musical elements, was the first piano-based genre of African-American music to be translated into a concert form, and it is where the history of jazz began. It has been played by pianists in Midwestern cities in America since about the 1870s, where most of the creators of this music lived. Ragtime was widespread in Kansas City, Chicago, Buffalo, New York City, Omaha, and, of course, New Orleans. Ragtime music unified everything that came before:
- – spiritual;
- – the plantation dance, the keikuok (the evolution of this dance culminated in the later popular toustep and foxtrot)
- – minstrel songs;
- – European folk tunes;
- – military marches.
The transformed music of quadrilles, gavottes, waltzes, and polkas was driven by a fresh, insistent, syncopated, “torn rhythm.” The origin of the word ragtime is still unclear; perhaps it comes from ragged time. Virtually all of the syncopated music of the 19th and early 20th centuries before jazz came along was called ragtime.
Ragtime, which spread throughout America for the next twenty-five years, would be the most popular music, with its own specific coloring and regional styles in each area. The performers of this jaunty, assertive, and reckless music introduced it to the entire country. Young people loved ragtime dancing, but the older generation did not like that style of music. The Puritans, overly strict in their rules of behavior, compared ragtime to another stage of social decay. Time itself provided the answer. By about 1917 ragtime began to fade away, unable to withstand its own popularity, in part because of the complexity of the music itself and the difficulty of performing it: you could not play ragtime without good musical training. Performed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by African-American brass bands and ragtime-dance bands, ragtime later found its rightful place in orchestral jazz, and the name served as a musical characteristic of such bands, for example: Buddy Bolden’s Ragtime Band.
One of the most prominent representatives of ragtime was the Negro pianist and composer Scott Joplin (1868-1917). He composed about six hundred ragtime songs, among the best known of which are Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, and Original Rags, published in 1899 by John Stark Publishers. The heyday of ragtime was in the 1890s and 1910s. In addition to live performances and printed editions of ragtime, the cardboard perforated cylinders called player rolls used in mechanical pianos helped this music to spread. Invaluable evidence of the music of that period has come down to us. In the mid-20th century the rolls were restored and the ragtime records were put on vinyl records, so that Joplin’s music can still be heard today. In Europe, ragtime was introduced to the public at the beginning of the 20th century by brass bands. Later ragtime was reflected even in the works of composers of academic music – C. Debussy, I. Stravinsky, P. Hindemith, D. Millau and others.
At the end of the nineteenth century, New Orleanians heard the blues for the first time. Refugees, former plantation slaves, poured into New Orleans from the countryside in an endless stream. They had fled the Mississippi River delta from the Lynch and Ku Klux Klan ships and the drudgery of the cotton and cane plantations. The blues was part of their baggage, a musical expression of a special worldview associated with the manifestation of black self-awareness, their freedom and their protest against social injustice. Since the late 1860s, black Americans had wanted to free themselves from the aesthetics of minstrelsy, in whose shows African Americans were presented to the audience as people with negative human qualities. As a result of this peculiar musical protest-seeking, a folk secular form of singing emerged that was very flexible, malleable, malleable, and simple: the blues. The roots of the blues lie deep in Negro folklore. The word blues
comes from the English word, blue devils, and figuratively, “when the soul is scrambled.” To shine in the blues, it is not enough just technique of performance, you need to back up the technique with mood, with feeling. The blues was the secular music of African Americans, but it could be considered the “unholy brother” of the spiritual music of the Christian church. It was built on the same antiphon techniques (questions from the preacher and responses from the flock). But while in church music man turned to God, in the blues the desperate man turned to the oppressor on earth. The blues performer seemed to exorcise the sadness-sadness of the blues. Blues poems reflecting some life conflict can be tragic, realistic and denunciatory, but the music in the blues is always cleansing. The blues is the most distinctive phenomenon of Negro musical culture.
In New Orleans, black musicians arranged blues tunes on brass instruments, which were found in junk stores and stalls at every turn. Trumpets, cornet, and trombones were left over from brass bands from the North-South Civil War. Previously, the military marching bands (brass bands), made up of white musicians, had a piercing sound: direct, sharp, jerky, powerful, capable of accompanying any procession. With New Orleans colored musicians, however, due to a lack of technique and minimal professional training, the instruments sounded different: the sound began to vibrate at the end of a note, imitating choral singing in church or the singing of blues singers. And this music expressed an entirely different feeling; it had a different power over the listener! Although the music was quite primitive, it had a playfulness of melody and embellishment (a kind of improvisation). It combined the spiritual, sublime and, at the same time, the secular sound of music. The lively life of New Orleanians enabled Negro brass bands to perform daily, as all social events in the city were accompanied by music.
The leading instrument in the late 19th-century New Orleans brass band was the trumpet or cornet. The trombone and clarinet were also included. The rhythm band consisted of banjo or guitar, tuba, drums and cymbals, and there were six or seven musicians in all. It was in such orchestras that jazz was born. What did a New Orleans orchestra sound like? The musicians in the front line of the orchestra played a certain theme, then improvised one at a time or in groups, a kind of polyphony (polyphony) emerged, which imitated the three-voice counterpoint characteristic of the traditional New Orleans style. It was the fundamental, first style of the classical (or archaic) period of jazz history.
12 places to hear incredible jazz in New Orleans
New Orleans is called the Home of Jazz and is famous for cultivating an atmosphere in which historic artists like Jelly Roll Morton, Sweet Emma Barrett and Louis Armstrong thrive, as well as contemporary masters like Trombone Shorty and Kermit Ruffins. The vibrant art form of jazz in New Orleans is constantly evolving, keeping the scene fresh and attracting music lovers. French Street is a popular spot for live music clubs, but jazz artists light up stages in every neighborhood.
The best places to hear jazz in New Orleans
To help, here’s a list of twelve hot spots that locals love to hear live jazz in New Orleans.
Louis Armstrong once said: “The Preservation Hall.” That’s where you’ll find all the greats. For more than 50 years, New Orleans’ beloved music hall, located in the heart of the French Quarter, has spotlighted the city’s brightest talents.
A collective of musicians gather every night to perform traditional acoustic jazz in the historic listening room. The sets run for 45 minutes, with up to five shows a night. Maximum seating for 100 people is limited to wooden benches or floor cushions; the rest is standing room only. Purchase your Big Shot seats in advance to get a guaranteed premium seat and not wait in line.
It’s not a bar – no drinks are served, though you can bring your own in a plastic cup – so all ages are welcome.
This venerable club, located in Uptown in the Carrollton neighborhood, has great live music, every night, and a jazz mix in the mix with blues, funk, zydeco and more. This dark, tin-tiled room, no pretensions and no frills, has a stage at one end and a throbbing dance floor in the center. Don’t be shy when a local asks you to dance – it’s a classic Maple Leaf experience. Cool your sweat in the sweet patio, then head back into the mix.
Don’t miss out on Tuesday nights with local favorite jazz band Rebirth.
Spotted Cat Music Club.
Look out the window of this beloved French street, and you’ll immediately see why locals and musicians love this place. Close and humble, there is no barrier between artist and audience. Even when the floor is crowded, there is always room to groove. There are no reservations or cover charges, just show up and be prepared to buy drinks – cash only – and dance your jazz-loving heart out late into the night.
Another favorite street of the French, here the guiding force is a.k.a. muses is music, food and spirits. It’s a great place to share small plates of cheeses or bruschetta and sip handcrafted cocktails (like the excellent Supernova Champagne) while listening to the cool jazz club of New Orleans. Make a reservation and relax in the friendly, low-key atmosphere.
The list on this French street is frequented by brass bands and the atmosphere is just plain fun. The place is packed and there are no advance tickets, so get there early. The first set usually starts around 7 p.m., followed by 10 p.m. and sometimes late in the evening. A great selection of draft beers and an impressive booze list complete the draw of a night enjoying jazz in New Orleans.
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro.
Lots of history and tradition are located at this establishment on French Street. For 30 years, greats including Marsalis, Neville and Toussaint have shared their talents with this stage. The show is general admission, so come early to take balcony seats overlooking the players for one of the two nightly sets.
No photos are allowed, encouraging you to live in the moment and focus solely on the music.
Uptown’s famous concert hall, affectionately known as Tips, gets its name from a song by the great jazz professor Longhair, who often performed in the space before Tips. Other luminaries such as Dr. John, the Neville Brothers and Trombone Shorty have graced the stage, but also showcase the rising stars of urban jazz in New Orleans.
The famous club is famous for creating a nonprofit foundation focused on music education and developing young talent. That spirit translates into an enjoyable energy for every show. Getting tickets in advance is an experience you don’t want to miss.
Howlin’ Wolf Music Club.
This unusual venue in the Warehouse District has been attracting many music lovers to the industrial area since 1988. This groundbreaking spirit shines through with an eclectic roster that mixes jazz with groove, blues and rock. Expect long, lingering sets and hot, sweaty fun … and don’t miss the night’s performance, where every gutter body, including the musicians, is ready to jam.
There’s a terrific collection of local brews and eateries (with a NOLA twist, of course). Order crawfish pie and alligator balls and get ready to howl at the moon.
Chicky Wow Wow.
The atmospheric club with the playful name, named after a song by beloved NOLA artist Bobby Marchand, is physically and spiritually located off the beaten path, on the Upper Canal in Mid-City. This favorite choice among jazz fans in New Orleans is known for bringing up local musicians, often with a long-standing artist residency and the guarantee that 100 percent of the evening’s coverage (usually around $10) goes directly to the performers.
The schedule varies, but depends heavily on the funk and the spirit. Check out the noon and happy hour sets, which are always fun, and plan to hop on the streetcar and arrive early to grab a table. There are usually several artists in the set, and the small room swells as the headliner’s set approaches.
The Ellis Marsalis Center and Musician’s Village
Take a break from the club scene and enjoy authentic New Orleans jazz performances with an educational emphasis at this state-of-the-art venue in the Ninth Ward. After Hurricane Katrina, local sons Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. created the center to develop the city’s vast musical talent. The venue, named for influential educator and pianist Ellis Marsalis, houses 170 auditoriums, recording studios and practice rooms.
Check the calendar for monthly performances in the Educators series, which honors musicians who have shaped the city’s music scene.
Le Bon Temp Roule.
French for let the good times roll, this beloved neighborhood bar became the jazz standard of New Orleans when Kermit Ruffins’ longtime residency attracted music lovers from all over this Uptown immersion.
In a playful nod to the talent incubator’s reputation, there’s a small stage called the Gathering House. Plan your trip around catching a Thursday night set by Soul Rebels, then come back on Friday for free oysters and neighborhood camaraderie.
This Bywater favorite is often referred to as a NOLA backyard party. And what a backyard it is. Tables and chairs are scattered in a classic New Orleans courtyard, trees draped in twinkling lights, sweet tunes blasting from the stage – it’s pure New Orleans perfection.
This is not the place to be booked. Spend the evening in the middle of the day or plan your night around the show. Order a bottle of wine or bring your own (corkage fee is $20) and share small plates. Leave the kids with a babysitter; this cool party is 21 and up.