Jazz Greats: Introducing Eubie Blake

Jazz Greats: Introducing Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was an American ragtime pianist whose groundbreaking collaboration with singer and lyricist Noble Sissle ultimately yielded a number of hits, made vaudeville history, and resulted in the debut of the first all-black Broadway show to play for full Broadway prices.

Blake is best known for his songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.” Many argue that Blake was part of the foundation of the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

Read on to learn more about Eubie Blake and why we love his work so much.

Early Life

Jazz legend has it that Eubie Blake, born James Hubert Blake around 1887, wandered into a music shop at the age of four, climbed onto the bench of an organ, and started to play. His mother, a former slave named Emily “Emma” Johnstone, found him and was informed by the store manager it “would be criminal” to deprive Blake of the chance to “make use of such sublime, God-given talent.” Blake’s parents purchased a pump organ through weekly payments of $0.25 a week, and Blake began taking lessons from an organist at the local Methodist church starting around age seven. By 15, he was playing in a Baltimore bordello, where he was eventually offered a spot at Gan’s Goldfield Hotel, owned by world champion boxer Joe Gans. Blake would play winters at the Goldfield and summers at clubs in Atlantic City.

Collaboration with Noble Sissle

Blake entered the ragtime scene during World War I and met Noble Sissle, already a vaudeville performer, shortly after the war. The two teamed up to form a vaudeville musical act called the Dixie Duo, which was unusual at the time because they did not wear blackface or use an exaggerated dialect. They began work on their Broadway Musical, Shuffle Along, and it opened at the end of May in 1921. The production closed after more than 500 performances and is considered to be a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance because it opened the way for a number of other, similar shows. The two continued to compose and perform, writing scores for USO shows during World War II.

Later Life

Blake made a comeback in the 1960s after appearing on an NBC special titled “Those Ragtime Years.” He began touring the United States and Europe, appeared on major television variety programs like Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, and was showcased in the hit Broadway show, Saturday Night Live, Eubie! He played and recorded up to his death on Feb. 12, 1982. He allegedly had just celebrated his 100thbirthday, since Blake began to claim later in life he had been born in 1882 instead of 1887.

Legacy

Blake’s legacy is far-reaching thanks to his collaborations with Sissle and groundbreaking show Shuffle Along. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995. Blake received honorary doctoral degrees (some posthumously) from Rutgers University, Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, and Howard University between 1974 and 1982. He also was awarded the Johns Hopkins University George Peabody Medal in 1980 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1969.

3 Surprising Facts About Louis Armstrong’s Grave in Queens

3 Surprising Facts About Louis Armstrong’s Grave in Queens

Louis Armstrong was larger than life but, to those who knew him, a relatively quiet and simple man (they said).

His grave, which is located in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, is a testament to that quieter side of the jazz superstar who brought us “Stardust,” “What a Wonderful World,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” to name just a few.

When Armstrong died in 1971, he left behind a legacy of musical improvisation, including scat singing. Literary critic Harold Bloom placed him on par with Walt Whitman as “the genius of this nation at its best.”

Jazz aficionados who visit Armstrong’s grave may find it a bit surprising. The large, black stone is simple, engraved with nothing more than his name, Louis Armstrong, and the nickname “Satchmo” in quotes. Atop the stone lies a white marble trumpet and a white marble handkerchief.

3 Surprising Things to Know About Louis Armstrong

What does it all mean? Well, here are three things you can learn about Armstrong at his gravesite that might surprise you.

  1. Louis Armstrong had at least 3 names.

Although the gravestone itself is inscribed with the name “Louis,” Armstrong apparently used multiple spellings and pronunciations of his name throughout his life. He was most commonly referred to as “Louie” or “Lewie” and registered himself for the 1920 U.S. Census using the latter spelling. However, in his 1964 record, “Hello, Dolly,” he refers to himself as Lewis. Musicians and close friends reportedly referred to Armstrong simply as “Pops.” His third wife, Lucille Wilson, publicly referred to him as “Louie.”

  1. “Satchmo” refers to Armstrong’s early performance habits.

Armstrong was known by the nicknames “Satchmo” and “Satch” in reference to the longer version of his nickname, “Satchelmouth.” As a young boy in New Orleans, Armstrong would dance in the streets for pennies. When he received coins from an appreciative audience, he would hold them in his mouth to keep bigger children from stealing them. Another version of the story simply states that friends nicknamed Armstrong “Satchelmouth” because he had a large mouth, and the name was eventually abbreviated “Satchmo.”

  1. His white handkerchief started a trend.

Armstrong was known for using a white handkerchief to wipe his face when he perspired, particularly when he was on stage. These handkerchiefs became iconic, and many are preserved at the Louis Armstrong House Museum at Queens College today. Young people in the 1950s often carried similar white handkerchiefs and wiped their own faces with exaggerated mannerisms in an attempt to mimic Armstrong. This is one reason Armstrong’s gravestone bears a white, marble handkerchief.

Louis Armstrong was one of the best-loved musicians in American history, and he made headlines consistently during his life and after his death. In the wake of his funeral, fans actually plundered the graveside for flowers and other mementos just to remember him by. When criticized, they returned, “I just want something to remember him.”

Flowers or not, there is no forgetting Louis Armstrong.

A Closer Look at Disney’s Scat Cat Club

A Closer Look at Disney’s Scat Cat Club

Disney’s Scat Cat’s Club is located at Walt Disney World in the Port Orleans Resort section of the park and resort. The club is located just off the hotel’s main lobby and features memorabilia from great jazz musicians. The club used to have resident musicians, including Tom Casey (2013-2015) and Elliot Dyson. Both played lounge classics and guest requests. Since 2015, the club has not had a permanent resident musician, but they do feature local musicians, Disney musicians, and even DJs for live entertainment.

Since the club is our group’s namesake, we had to get around to posting a little review of the venue. While it is certainly not your typical jazz performance venue, we won’t say we would turn down the opportunity to play on that stage!

Atmosphere

The Scat Cat’s Club operates from 4 p.m. until midnight, and earlier in the day it often serves as a “crash pad” for guests who have arrived early at the resort and are still waiting for access to their rooms. Sometimes you will see people asleep in the comfy chairs, and the venue is certainly snug and cozy. However, we’re not big fans of people who sleep through live music, so…

The décor in the club is definitely in keeping with the theme of a jazz club. It has rich woods, coffered ceilings, benches, wooden chairs around tables, and more plush seating for guests, and a great deal of jazz memorabilia. Not surprisingly, a lot of it is old sheet music covers and pictures of jazz greats, but it definitely adds to the overall jazz club vibe of the place.

Food & Service

Although Scat Cat’s Club at Disney is not considered a “destination bar” at the Walt Disney World resorts, it does play host to something called “boozy beignets,” which are those tasty, powdered-sugary pastries popular in the French Quarter paired with injectable shots of liquor like Bailey’s, RumChata, and Kahlua. The restaurant also offers fried cheese in an unusual format: round, fried balls of pimento cheese served over a sweet and spicy pepper sauce. The kitchen is best at “bar food,” so keep your expectations managed and you can enjoy some really delicious dining.

Entertainment

A lot of reviews you will find of the Scat Cat’s Club at Disney revolve around the current lack of a resident musician. This is definitely a little bit of a disappointment, and it also leads to a lack when it comes to real jazz being played at this jazz club. Since many musicians at the club focus on taking requests, often you end up with a little bit more of the Eagles and a little bit less of Louis or Jelly Roll than we would like. However, when the club does feature a jazz musician, they usually make sure the “greats” get into the mix along with the other tunes. Sometimes, though, you will have to make do with the player piano that definitely adds to the ambience but does not necessarily make for great entertainment.

Our Conclusion

During the review process, we encountered another patron of the Scat Cat’s Club at Disney who snarked that the bar is a must for a Walt Disney World “completionist” but otherwise not particularly a necessary stop on the tour unless you are staying at the Port Orleans resort. We would argue that the scenery and magic of the resort paired with memorabilia and a clear fondness for (if not always familiarity with) jazz clubs and the Jazz Age make this a pleasant and worthwhile stop for anyone visiting Walt Disney World.

Jelly Roll Morton: Braggart or Not, Still a Pivotal Figure in Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton: Braggart or Not, Still a Pivotal Figure in Jazz

If you love jazz, then the odds are very slim that you do not already know the name “Jelly Roll Morton.” Jelly Roll, who was born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, was the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz” and a known braggart as well as a great pianist in New Orleans during the Roaring 20s. Morton is widely recognized as a pivotal figure in jazz, but he is also often dismissed as an overly confident egomaniac. We argue that Morton was actually ahead of his time and he may even have invented his own style of piano, in part, to compensate for perceived lack of skills in the burgeoning jazz piano sector.

Read on to learn more about Jelly Roll Morton’s life and legacy.

Early Years

Morton was part of a Creole community in downtown New Orleans, and his parents could trace their Creole ancestry back to the 18thcentury. He did not have a birth certificate because this documentation was not required until some 25 years after his estimated birth in 1885 or 1890. His father was a bricklayer, and his mother was a domestic worker. The two were never married, and his father left when Morton was 3 years old. Later, his mother married William Mouton and Morton anglicized Mouton’s name to Morton before adopting it.

First Job

Morton’s first job was playing piano in a brothel, but he convinced his grandmother he was a night watchman in a barrel factory. When she discovered the truth, she disowned him. He later wrote, “[my grandmother] told me devil music would surely bring about my downfall, but I just couldn’t put it behind me.” It was while working at the brothel that Morton adopted his nickname, which was a common slang term associated with female genitalia. Around the same time, he wrote “Jelly Roll Blues” and he began traveling and recording music as well. He continued to do so for the next 25 years, recording “New Orleans Blues,” “Frog-I-More Rag,” “Animule Dance,” and King Porter Stomp.” Years later, “King Porter Stomp” would be arranged by Fletcher Henderson for Benny Goodman and become a swing standard, but Morton would not receive royalties for that recording.

Recording Contract

Morton landed a recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1926 and, two years later, married showgirl Mabel Bertrand in Gary, Indiana. However, the Great Depression cut his recording career short. Victor did not renew his contract, possibly in part because few musicians wanted to play his style of piano. This meant that while his piano solos were well-regarded, he could not compete with the emerging big-band musicians of his day.

“The Inventor of Jazz”

Interestingly, part of the murkiness around Morton’s age stems from Morton himself, who claimed in his later life to have been born in 1890. Some historians say he made up this birthdate in order to stake a better claim to the “invention” of jazz, since he would have been slightly too old to have invented the musical style if he were born in 1885, as many suspect he was. Morton officially made this claim with folklorist Alan Lomax during a series of interviews that comprised the oral history of the origins of jazz.

While it is difficult to give Morton full credit for the entire musical genre’s invention, he did create his own piano style that was a combination of secondary ragtime and “shout,” which eventually evolved to be stride piano. He would play the melody of a tune with his right thumb and harmonize with the other fingers on his right hand. His tempo tended to be a little slower than other jazz pianists of the day, and Lomax would later cite a portion of an interview in which Morton said he “used a slower tempo to permit flexibility through the use of more notes” as an indication that Jelly Roll Morton might have invented his piano style to compensate for what he perceived to be a lack of dexterity “in manipulations” on the piano.

Stabbing, Chronic Illness, and Death

In 1938, Morton was stabbed at the club he managed and suffered for hours before receiving treatment. Doctors placed ice on his wounds for several hours before treating them, and after the stabbing he often became ill and short of breath. At one point, Morton spent three months in a New York hospital and died during a trip to Los Angeles while attempting to stage a comeback with new manuscripts and arrangements.

Morton’s Legacy

As if he feared to be forgotten, several of Morton’s compositions were, essentially, musical tributes to himself. He wrote “Winin’ Boy,” “The Jelly Roll Blues,” and “Mr. Jelly Lord” all about himself. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Morton is also an elected, charter member of the Gennett Records Walk of Fame.

New Yorker’s Terrace Room Jazz Heyday Featured the Greats of the Time

New Yorker’s Terrace Room Jazz Heyday Featured the Greats of the Time

When you think of the Roaring 20s, probably the last thing that comes to mind is today’s controversial Al-Jazeera television station, based in New York City. However, Al Jazeera presently occupies a “stage” that used to belong to jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Bob Crosby. That stage is part of the now-defunct Terrace Room, which was once one of the most glamorous night spots in the Big Apple.

The Terrace Room was perhaps one of the more successful business ventures attached to the New Yorker Hotel, which opened just in time for the Great Depression and struggled to keep its doors open. Management often ordered the lights in vacant rooms left on in order to give the appearance that the hotel was doing a thriving business, but the New Yorker filed for bankruptcy in 1966. Before that sad day, however, the hotel boasted more televisions under one roof than any other building in the world (1948), operated the dining services at LaGuardia Airport in the Kitty Hawk Bar and Grill, and proudly hosted a 50-chair barber salon.

During the second World War, the New Yorker was filled with service personnel who enjoyed the night life in the Terrace Room and the luxuries and hospitality available throughout the hotel itself. Many soldiers enjoyed reminiscing about their time there so much that they would dub their dugouts on the war front “The New Yorker” with hand-painted signs. When the Terrace Room was in its heyday and Benny Goodman was often in evidence, the hotel broadcast concerts four nights a week, bringing jazz and swing to millions of homes across the United States and into those dugouts via the American Forces radio network.

In front of the stage where Goodman and others performed, a retractable floor hid a small ice stage. At times, the hotel would host an ice performance in conjunction with the musical concert, and this was the case for Goodman and his band when they played at the Terrace Room during that time.

Today, the Terrace Room is nothing but a memory. The revolving brass door that once opened into a terraced room with its central, focal ice stage below now leads into television and recording studios. Next door is the long-defunct, vacant Manufacturing Trust Bank (MTC) and a vast wall of empty safe-deposit boxes that were, thanks to the Great Depression, mostly never filled. If you listen closely, however, you might hear the faint echoes of Benny Goodman, playing tunes requested by diners eating lobster while watching one of the most glamorous shows available at the time.

The New Yorker was purchased in 1976 by the Unification Church, who used part of the building as a world mission center. The New Yorker and 1,000 rooms in the original building are now operated by the Wyndham Group. You can listen to Benny Goodman and other musicians from that era in the lobby museum.

You Don’t Have to Get the Blues to Love Jazz

You Don’t Have to Get the Blues to Love Jazz

One of the most common myths about jazz music that we hear (mainly from people who have never listened to more than half a sheet of jazz music, at most) is that jazz music is “too depressing” to enjoy. “I can’t get into those blues songs,” people often say. “I just don’t know why you would want to listen to that sort of melancholy music.”

Now, if you have ever met me or listened to the Scat Cats perform, you know already that I’m not a “Debbie Downer” kind of person. Put simply: I do not have the blues in any way, shape, or form. So it always surprises me when people who know me tell me they think jazz is too sad, slow, or depressing for them to handle, because I’m not a sad, slow, or depressing kind of person. Do you really think I would sing that sort of thing all the time? I can, sure, and it sounds great, but it’s not my main strain by any stretch.

So where did this crazy misconception about “sad jazz” come from?

Well, truth be told, there is a lot of slow, sad, bluesy jazz out there, and a lot of it is brilliant. However, a lot of people completely overlook the “happy jazz” that started it all: the hits of the 1920s and 1930s that had a bounce and (you know it) a “swing” to it as well.

When I think of jazz, I don’t just think of the blues. I think of the Big Band music of the swell, elegant, crazy 1920s. I think of the 1930s and George Gershwin, of the swing-era musicians and the bands they put together to bring jazz to the forefront of that musical age. And, of course, I think of the 1930s jazz trumpet/cornet genius Bix Beiderbecke, of Bing Crosby’s earliest vocal experiments, and the Rhythm Boys. They’ve all got bounce. They’ve all got swagger, and believe me, you will feel nothing but happy when you’re listening.

Not sure what or who I’m raving about? Let me give you a quick run-down before you go on your next Google search for these happy-jazz musicians:

  • George Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm, just for starters, and that wasn’t even his most famous piece. I mention it because everyone knows it, but not everyone knows it is jazz.
  • Bix Beiderbecke, whose real name was Leon Bismark Beiderbecke, was part of America’s most popular dance band at the time, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, and composed or played such classics as “Georgia on My Mind,” which you might have recognized as jazz, and “Riverboat Shuffle,” which you might not if you think jazz has to be slow, sultry, and sentimental. Now you know differently, and you should be happyyou were wrong!
  • Bing Crosby is ubiquitous as a famous singer, but did you know he got his start thanks to a jazz-influenced rendition of “Old Man River” in 1928? It was his first number-one hit.

This list (and I) could go on and on, but I think you’re starting to get the picture. I just have to add one final thing: If you don’t believe jazz can be happy, then come hear the Scat Cats perform. I guarantee your toes will tap, your hips will sway, and your face will split wide open in a great, big grin.

In About 6,000 Years, the Future Will Hear Jazz Great Artie Shaw

In About 6,000 Years, the Future Will Hear Jazz Great Artie Shaw

Assuming there is anything left on the planet in the year 8113, the smooth strains of jazz great Artie Shaw could waft through the futuristic sound systems of Atlanta, Georgia, in the spring of that year. Six of Shaw’s recordings are part of the extremely eclectic mix of items sealed in the Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University. The crypt is widely considered to be the first conventional time capsule, and its open date is May 28, 8113.

So how did Artie Shaw get into this time capsule, and who else is in there with him? Shaw himself is regarded as one of the finest clarinetists in jazz history and was in his heyday in 1936, when the capsule’s contents were assembled and then sealed behind a welded-shut, stainless-steel door in the basement of Oglethorpe University’s Phoebe Hearst Hall. In 1936, Shaw had not yet released his recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” which led to the clarinetist’s swift ascension to pop-icon status, but he had been performing with some of the country’s most popular big bands. Shaw had also gained attention in 1935 for his unusual instrumentation, including the decision to play backed only by a rhythm section and a string quartet in some concerts.

Interestingly, Shaw is only one of two named musicians in the crypt, although the official documentation of the contents indicates that multiple “miscellaneous” records are also included in the vault. The other musician is composer Richard Himber, who was an American bandleader, composer, violinist, magician, and practical joker. Shaw may have made the list because, like Himber, he was a multidisciplinary artist. In addition to playing the clarinet, Shaw was a composer, bandleader, author of both fiction and nonfiction, and actor. He also enjoyed studying advanced mathematics.

The Crypt of Civilization is the brainchild of Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, now regarded as “the father of the modern time capsule.” Jacobs, a historian himself, was routinely frustrated by the lack of accurate information about ancient civilizations. He conceived of the crypt as a way to create a permanent record of life at the time the crypt was sealed, in 1936. Jacobs included everything he could think of to help the future civilizations gain an accurate view of his world, including hundreds of newsreels and recordings, a device to teach English to whomever or whatever opens the crypt in 8113, and myriad items from daily life including a piece of lucite, a “Toastalator (electric),” a pocket watch, clothing, hair pins, dentures, and a plastic flute.

Artie Shaw’s recordings, along with the rest of the items in the crypt, are sealed in a room 20 feet long by 10 feet high by 10 feet wide. The room rests on bedrock beneath two additional feet of stone and is lined with porcelain enamel plates embedded in pitch. The stainless-steel door is welded shut, and no valuables such as gold or gemstones were included so as “not to tempt vandals.” Fortunately for that future civilization, whatever it may be, a record player is included in the inventory. We just hope, for their sake, they know

3 Ways to Spot Good Jazz

3 Ways to Spot Good Jazz

A lot of people insist that there is no such thing as “bad jazz.” They may be right. So many times, what is a perfect fit for one jazz enthusiast’s ear is a terrible clunker in another ear. Because jazz is such an extensive genre both in terms of style and longevity, it is easy to say that one man’s (or woman’s) “trash” is another’s treasure when it comes to jazz.

However, as with most types of art, there will always be people who want to be able to make value judgments about the relative caliber of one musician or creative individual over another. Particularly if you are new to jazz appreciation, it can be frustrating to feel as if you do not know if you are listening to something “good” that simply does not appeal to you or if you have mastered the “jazz ear” and now can comment on relative merits of one jazz piece over another.

To help with this process and, hopefully, bring more jazz lovers into the fold where they belong and can learn to really appreciate all forms of this musical style, here is a starter list of three ways you can spot jazz music that is, in all likelihood, truly good jazz. Now, do not get carried away. At no point should I ever hear, “Well, the Scat Cats say you’re out to lunch*because you don’t meet these three points for good jazz.” Nope. Better not. Because that would be, as jazz musicians might say, a real bringdown**. In fact, it might lead us to blow our top***and call you a birdbrain****if we were feeling particularly feisty.

You just use these three pointers as a starting place and be fly*****while you learn to love jazz.

Good Jazz Goal #1: The music “tells a story”

Most jazz musicians use some level of improvisation when they perform even if they are playing old classics. When the instrumental comes in, listen for that improvisation. Are the musicians having fun? Are they working together to make that instrumental section really tell a story? If so, then you are probably listening to some good jazz.

Good Jazz Goal #2: You can tell the musicians have their own voice

This goes along with #1 quite a bit. There are a lot of jazz classics out there, but most of us who really love those tunes make them our own. However, you don’t want a musician to muddle through the song or add things that sound out of place just to be unique. If the jazz is good, you think, “Wow, that is a great song; I never thought of quite that way before,” and you know the musician put his or her own style on it.

Good Jazz Goal #3: They can stretch the beat but don’t break it

Jazz has a very difficult rhythm to play because it allows for notes both before and behind the beat, but you also have to keep perfect time in addition to creating a syncopated sound. It is hard. If you are listening to good jazz, you will find yourself amazed at the technical ability of the musicians in addition to enjoying their tunes.

Need a few pointers for the “jazz lingo” up top? Check out the translations below.

* “Out to lunch” means lame or a bad jazz musician. “I can’t stand that guy’s style. He is really out to lunch.”

** “Bringdown” is a verb that means to depress someone. Can also be used as an adjective. “That guy is a real bringdown, so let’s leave before he starts complaining.”

*** “Blow our top” expresses exasperation, but it can also indicate enthusiasm. In this article, it implies exasperation. “We don’t want to blow our top so do not push our patience.”

**** “Birdbrain” is a term for someone who is not original or informed. “Only a birdbrainwould say that Benny Goodman wasn’t a jazz great.”

***** “Be fly” is an adjective that means smooth or cool. “I love the Scat Cats. That is one flygroup.”

Why Some Say 1959 Was ‘The Greatest Year’ in Jazz

Why Some Say 1959 Was ‘The Greatest Year’ in Jazz

If you hold with many popular opinions from musical experts and jazz aficionados around the globe, then you probably will agree that 1959 was “The Greatest Year” jazz ever had. The year was certainly pivotal for the genre. Here is a brief summary of why proponents for this theory support it:

  • In 1959, Esquire devoted an entire issue to jazz, titled “The Golden Age of Jazz”
  • Miles Davis finished recording Kind of Blue, the bestselling jazz album of all time
  • John Coltrane finished recording Giant Steps
  • Dave Brubeck released Time Out, which was more popular in its day than Kind of Blue and led the way toward jazz fusion and smooth jazz

So, in summary, in 1959 a major magazine announced that 1959 would be “the year” for jazz and then a number of very famous, long-lasting, impactful recordings and records essentially made it so.

That is fairly convincing, really. You certainly cannot argue that 1959 was not a pivotal year for the genre. But was it the greatest year in jazz?

Placing the title of “greatest year for jazz” on a year now six decades behind us is, perhaps, a bit limiting. After all, while jazz may have encountered some very pivotal events during 1959, it has not, by any stretch, ceased to evolve since that pivotal moment. In very few musical genres may one legitimately state, decades after the genre’s inception, that a new movement has formed as a result of said genre. With jazz, however, this happens once or twice a decade – at least.

Head out to a club today – and it does not have to be a jazz club, by the way – and you will still hear echoes and invocations of jazz greats from the World War I era and onward. We still feel chills rise when we hear Ella Fitzgerald, but we also get a surge of excitement when we recognize a “sample” of Duke Ellington in modern music, such as when “In a Sentimental Mood” made it into Mac Miller’s “Diablo” in 2014 or “My Little Brown Book” got a nod from Ghostface Killah in 2000.

Is every song impacted by jazz to our personal taste? Probably not, but the genre is nothing if not intensely pervasive and, as a result, we would argue, not anywhere near 60 years past its prime.

The Drowning and Emerging Immortality of New Orleans’ Jazzland Amusement Park

The Drowning and Emerging Immortality of New Orleans’ Jazzland Amusement Park

In the year 2000, an appropriately named amusement park opened in New Orleans. Jazzland, a close imitator of the popular Six Flags franchise, offered a wooden rollercoaster built on a steel frame that was ironically (as you will soon discover) designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, replicas of rides located at Pontchartrain Beach, a defunct park that had been a local favorite located next to Lake Pontchartrain, and amusement park “regulars” like spinning rides, a carousel, and a log flume. Jazzland featured large, themed sculptures including clowns, crocodiles dressed as chefs, and Mardi-Gras-beaded skeletons.

Although the park seemed perfectly suited for the area, it was not profitable. In 2002, Jazzland was sold to Six Flags and renamed “Six Flags New Orleans.” The company quickly added familiar staples to the Jazzland-themed mix, including a Batman ride, a looping rollercoaster, and a Jester-themed ride relocated from a Texas location. The park retained many of its Jazzland attractions, including themed areas named Pontchartrain Beach, Mardi Gras, and Cajun Country. In early 2005, the park announced it would soon add a water park that would be included in the price of admission, but before this could progress past the planning stage, Hurricane Katrina struck. The last day of operation for Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans was August 21, 2005, and the resulting “water park” that emerged from the wreckage of Katrina would prove insurmountable even to a national powerhouse like the Six Flags corporation.

What Happened Underwater?

Hurricane Katrina was a disaster of extreme proportions, but it surprised many that the hurricane managed to permanently shut down an amusement park owned by one of the biggest names in the business. The problem was multifaceted. First of all, the park was located in one of the lowest-lying areas of New Orleans and was totally submerged in corrosive floodwater for nearly a month after the storm had passed. Some 80 percent of the park was demolished by the time the waters receded. Although Six Flags declared the park a total loss, the mayor of New Orleans at that time announced he would hold the corporation to its 75-year lease and force the company to rebuild the park. The only way the company could do this would be to force insurers to pay nearly $25 million, of which it only successfully could collect about half due to the catastrophic nature of the storm on the area at large.

In the following years, Six Flags routinely cited its inability to collect the full insurance amount as the reason for allowing Jazzland to remain unrestored and vacant. The company also routinely removed rides and any salvageable equipment like lights, planting structures, and shade coverings, for “refurbishment,” then installed them in other parks in other locations. Local residents had neither the interest nor the funds to buy expensive season passes to the park, which had been one of the least profitable in the Six Flags portfolio even before Katrina hit.

Is Jazzland Gone Forever?

While Six Flags had clearly given up on Jazzland, New Orleans had not given up on its theme park entirely. From 2008 to 2011, another amusement park company proposed a takeover of the lease and an expansion that would have restored Jazzland to its former glory and doubled the size of the park. Sadly, the process of evicting Six Flags and getting the new park approved took so long that nature began to take over the entire Jazzland park while Six Flags continued to loot its own park and diminish the value of the property for sale.

By 2011, it was clear the project would never come to fruition, and the city proposed another manifestation of Jazzland, this time as a mixed-use retail/outlet mall and amusement theme park with an associated movie studio back lot available for filming. Sadly, the only part of this plan that came to any productive end was the movie-industry facet, as Jazzland has been used to film several dystopian productions and has hosted the lairs of multiple big-screen super villains. Ultimately, it also landed roles in “Jurassic World” as Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs trashed it and in “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” as a cyclops-targeted metropolis on a deserted island. Jazzland also landed a feature in the video game “Mafia III” as, appropriately, an abandoned amusement park that is partially flooded.

Like jazz itself, Jazzland appears determined to evolve and truly become a timeless piece of New Orleans past and present. Today, fully eight development groups have expressed interest in reopening Jazzland in various forms. It remains to be seen which, if any, ultimately will succeed in bringing the original Jazzland back to life.