As the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, it is no wonder New Orleans makes a strong claim to be the birthplace of jazz music as well. Whether you are willing to give The Big Easy all the credit for this incredible, enduring music genre or not, you can’t deny that the jazz scene there today is still one of the hottest in the country. If you are heading south anytime soon, take a quick look at this list for three places you simply can’t afford to miss if you love jazz. Not heading south this year? Well, time to start building a bucket list, because your love of jazz just won’t be complete if you don’t have a visit to these three places in your memory banks.
The Steamboat Natchez is not only the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River. It is home to the Dukes of Dixieland, who have been playing their Dixieland jazz on the decks for decades. The Dukes feature a rotating cast of musicians specializing in all forms of jazz and bebop, and you can enjoy the tunes from late morning, during their harbor jazz brunch, to late, late at night.
The steamboat doubles as an event venue, so you can book parties, receptions, and even weddings on board. The company bills itself as “one of the most comprehensive, completely immersive, and interactive virtual experiences in the world” thanks to its virtual tour offerings, but you can also visit the 100-year-old steam engine room in person to see how the boat has operated for a century.
The People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market
The brainchild of award-winning musician Irvin Mayfield, the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market is a “local mecca for all things jazz.” Not only does the market host a performing arts venue and jazz community center, but it also boasts an actual market for performers and vendors to hawk their wares and play their tunes. The market caters to both adults and kids, with a classroom space for juvenile music-making and a digital interactive learning space showcasing how science and math form integral parts of the foundation of music.
Mayfield, who is a Grammy and Billboard-award winning jazz musician who has produced more than two dozen albums in his professional career, dreamed up the market after founding the New Orleans Symphony Jazz Orchestra. NOJO is the first performing arts group dedicated solely to developing the jazz industry. It was formed in 2002.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
Love listening to live, free music outside in the open air? Then this national park is for you! Not only does it boast a visitors center filled with information about the emergence and evolution of jazz, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park also offers walking tours, live concerts, and a junior ranger program. If you prefer self-guided tours, the park offers these as well.
Can’t get there in person? Don’t worry about missing a single note. The park offers live-streaming options so you can enjoy jazz performed in the heart of one of its earliest homes from your home.
Time to Get on the Road
If you have never been to New Orleans or if you missed the jazz angle of the city the last time you were there, first I have to ask: How did you miss the jazz? In all seriousness, however, a true jazz lover cannot go wrong in NOLA, and these three hot spots are just the very surface of the many fantastic opportunities for jazz aficionados in The Crescent
Toward the end of the 19thcentury, fully two decades before the official dawn of the Jazz Age, a New Orleans Alderman proposed an ordinance that would change the face of music. That Alderman, Sidney Story, did not have music on his mind, however, when he proposed Ordinance No. 13,032. He was thinking of something a little “bluer,” so to speak.
Story’s ordinance actually targeted prostitution, not Stride pianists. In an effort to regulate local illicit activities, Story hoped that making red-light behavior illegal everywhere other than the area bounded by North Robertson, Iberville, Basin, and St. Louis streets would enable the city to more easily keep “sales activities under control.” The district almost immediately was dubbed “Storyville” and quickly became a hotbed of tourism, with local stores publishing “blue books” describing services, prices, and houses in titillating detail.
Story believed the move would be a positive one both ethically and economically for the area. In reality, he accomplished neither, although some of the more successful madams had a nice run of it before losing their fortunes in “investment schemes” when their establishments later became illegal. However, historians do give Storyville credit for one very significant cultural contribution: the origin of Jazz.
Beginning with the passage of Story’s ordinance in 1897 and ending in 1917 when the entire red light district was permanently shuttered to “protect” local Naval officers and enlisted men from illicit entertainment, Storyville was a mecca for established professional pianists and aspiring composers and musicians who hoped to make a splash in an entertainment arena dedicated to lively, rollicking fun 24/7.
Much like Las Vegas casinos decades later, Storyville’s establishments dedicated huge portions of their operational budgets to keeping the good times going all the time. Expensive mansions dedicated to luring wealthy customers into the area became not only locations for a good time in the colloquial sense of the word, but also for anyone who enjoyed the emerging strains of what would become what we recognize today as the origins of 1920s jazz.
While Storyville is not by any stretch the only place that jazz began to emerge as a powerful musical trend, it certainly was a cauldron of mixed musical styles. The creative juices flowed from stages throughout the area thanks in large part to desegregation of those stages. Although music labels in the early 20thcentury insisted bands signed remain fully segregated, Storyville’s stages were increasingly unsegregated, and jazz flourished and evolved as a result.
The End (and Beginning) of an Era
When Storyville was officially closed in 1917, the musicians on its stages headed north to Chicago, which would soon emerge as the next major urban center for jazz. Storyville fell victim to a World War I regulation prohibiting brothels from operating within five miles of a military base. However, the district’s legacy includes Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Ann Cook, Joe “King” Oliver, and Pops Foster, among dozens of others.
Although proprietors of local establishments attempted to continue in business as dance halls, cabarets, and restaurants, repeated raids drove the most determined (and usually most profitable) entrepreneurs out of business. Those business owners tended to persistently operate speakeasies, gambling joints, and now-illegal brothels behind closed doors, so the entire area suffered under constant police raids.
When the National Prohibition Act followed quickly on the heels of the devastating 1917 regulation outlawing prostitution, Storyville began to sink figuratively into the past and literally into the ground. By the 1930s, the area had been leveled to create New Orleans’ Iberville Projects, which were closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, demolished in 2013, and now stand, resurrected, as an affordable-housing, mixed-use development boasting one of the lowest crime rates for low-income housing in New Orleans.
Today, Storyville holds a place only in history and myth, but every time you hear “Potato Head Blues” or Pops Fosters’ distinct slap bass style, take a quick second to thank Alderman Story for his failed attempt to regulate human nature and his inadvertent success as a catalyst for jazz.