08/30/12 - 0 Comments
Jazz Music in New Orleans
New Orleans is a magical city with enchanting roots. From the noisy taverns and the authentic restaurants to the wild celebrations (ever heard of Mardi Gras?), this Louisiana city is a haven of excitement. But, perhaps most enticing are the city’s roots, its history and back-stories. The backbone of the city undoubtedly is its music: jazz.
In the mid 1800s, when slavery was only just ending, New Orleans was 40 percent foreign. It was the center of the southern slave trade, but also home to a flourishing community of freed colored people, called the Creoles. These French Creoles supplied the city with music and festivities near Congo Square, an area reserved mostly for the enslaved. Eventually, the spirit of Congo Square spread: illicit taverns were now commonplace, providing music for the whites, coloreds, freedmen and enslaved alike, all joining to hear the Voodoo drumming rituals or the traditional military march music.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s when a new genre emerged from the streets of New Orleans. A man named Buddy Bolden was credited as the first jazz musician. Bolden would sit on the street and play an unknown and bizarre instrument, the trumpet, as loud and hard as he could. Unfortunately, he was stricken with mental illness, forcing him into a mental institute, so there are no recordings, but a few pictures of the musician survived.
Although Bolden is dubbed as the first, there are many out there willing to challenge his innovation. “It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, that New Orleans is the cradle of Jazz, and I myself happen to be the inventor in the year 1902,” said Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, a pianist. True, he was a strong force in the city’s musical culture, but he is known for boisterously mis-crediting himself as the “Father of Jazz.”
Racial walls engulfed New Orleans, and the only way to overcome them was through jazz music. It was, and still is, a part of the city’s culture. In 1917, the brothels and taverns were forced to shut down, meaning that musicians and their music had to travel, mostly to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and, eventually, to New York City.
Ever hear of Louis Armstrong? He was there, too. “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine, I look right into the heart of good old New Orleans. It has given me something to live for,” he said.
Since Hurricane Katrina, jazz musicians are floating back to their roots in the wake of the disaster. In the Faubourg Marigny section of town, just below the French quarter, there are close to a dozen clubs, established and sprouting, dedicated to jazz alone! The legend still lives on, and Assouline is helping celebrate jazz and the other hidden beauties of New Orleans in their new book, In the Spirit of New Orleans, by Debra Shriver. Check it out, and, if you’re lucky enough, go and hear for yourself the magic of New Orleans.