The Mother Lode of Jazz in the City That Birthed It
The music we now know as jazz was born in late-19th-century New Orleans, birthed from a confluence of European marching band music and African rhythms and brought up by dance and party musicians such as cornetist Buddy Bolden, drummer Papa Jack Laine, and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, who performed in the high-class bordellos of the legendary Storyville district.
Locally born Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong gave the music a new and clear voice in the 1920s and 1930s. Though the city’s importance as a musical center faded during the subsequent big band, be-bop, and postbop eras, by the late 1980s local trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his family had succeeded in repopularizing the traditional New Orleans sound.
New Orleans’s once frequent marching jazz funerals are becoming increasingly rare, but dozens of music venues are scattered throughout the city, in the French Quarter and beyond. For traditional jazz, visit the dark and spartan Preservation Hall, beloved by purists, showcasing classic New Orleans jazz. With a worn, wooden floor, no food or drinks, and only a few wooden benches for seating, the place is a diamond in brown-paper-bag clothing, a world-famous institution since it opened in 1961.
The musical pilgrimage continues at the legendary Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Avenue) where jazz, Cajun, country, and R & B keep the dance floor full in what once was a gambling hall and whorehouse; then on to Snug Harbor (626 Frenchman Street), the best place to find contemporary jazz and R & B, with regular appearances by some big names.
The best zydeco is Thursday night at the Mid-City Bowling Lanes, a.k.a. Rock ’n’ Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Avenue); other evenings are given over to Cajun, R & B, and jazz. And then there are those days when it may seem that the sax player in front of the cathedral in Jackson Square is the best thing you’ve heard all week – and it’s free.