Jazz Music

Even before jazz, for most New Orleanians, music was not a luxury as it often [was] elsewhere—it was a necessity.
— New Orleans Jazz, National Park Service

 

Black history month is full of fascinating brave people who rose  above the limitations of their time to make progress for humanity through equality. They continuously are faced with challenges throughout their entire history, exceeding exceptions, proving their worth and capability to a world that tried to limit them.

But certain aspects of Black history do not get celebrated enough in this case an entire genera of music.

Jazz.

This fall my best friends & I had the extreme pleasure of going to New Orleans. The whole city has a history and culture like none I have ever visited before. The art, music, food, coffee, sights, smells, architecture, history and people were spectacular. In the French Quarter jazz music is on every corner & on every corner the jazz music is phenomenal. The skills, passion and sound of each musician is unique with expertise.

We waited an hour in monsoon like rains for tickets to Preservation Hall, a famous tiny musical venue that puts on 3 shows a night crammed wall to wall with people. Preservation Hall has been around since 1961 and consists of an ensemble of more than 100 musicians (may of the being related to the original members from 1961). It was a great introduction to the world of jazz right in the French Quarter for someone like me with little experience. We also went to a local show that was recommended to us by one of the locals, the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar. Located in the East Carrollton neighborhood, just a short taxi ride from the French Quarter, they play every Tuesday night to a packkkkeddd house! & WOW! Loud & incredible!

This trip got me really interested in New Orleans history and specifically the history of the hometown of jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sidney Bechet and jazz music itself.

By the early 1900's New Orleans had became the hot-spot of the south for culture and celebration. "Opera, military marching bands, folk music, the blues, different types of church music, ragtime, echoes of traditional African drumming, and all of the dance styles that went with this music could be heard throughout the city," said Wynton Marsailis. The blending of all of these cultural influences gave birth to jazz.

The unique blending of cultures that is deeply rooted in New Orleans, created a culture different from another in the world. Deep history of Spanish and French occupation with the blending of different African cultures & Caribbean culture of drums with the migration of Irish, Americans after the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803 helped create a city unlike any other.

The earliest version of Jazz is credited to Buddy Bolden who is remembered for his charisma and his ability to get everyone dancing in the late 1890's. His arrangement of brass and woodwinds created a dancing experience that exited the young people of the day who where used to waltzed, polkas and "polite dancing." (NPS) This demand for excitement lead to the development of ragtime, blues and jazz that differed greatly from all other music. The genera was constantly pushing tradition aside avoiding permanent arrangements and playing by ear wherever the sound led them as a band.

This blending of cultures and community life within New Orleans incorporated music into everyday life with "brass band funerals, music for picnics in parks or ballgames, Saturday night fish fries...Red beans and rice banquettes on Monday's, and nightly dances at neighborhood halls all over town." (NPS) Walking around the French Quarter you get a sense of the neighborhood & can truly understand how all these events would be possible; a community experience that is hard to imagine in modern cities today. The French Quarter is small but at the same time big; and with the addition of the Garden District (where all the Americans moved after the Louisianan Purchase in 1803) and outlying neighborhoods there would be a great deal of community to be apart of at the beginning of the 20th century.

Famous jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Pete Fountain, Chris Owens, Ronnie Kole, Louis Prima, Allen Toussaint, & Irma Thomas would constantly push the conventions of the style making it a continuously evolving genera.

Jazz as we know it today was developed and made popular by Louis Armstrong, before Armstrong Dixieland was the popular genera that had all of the musicians soloing at once. Armstrong attempted to put a bit of structure in the music having the musicians solo either one at a time or a few at a time during the breaks of the collective music. Basically, very similar to the music of today as you can imagine. 

& Eventually Jazz would make its way up to the north during the Great Migration, a time when many left the south in search for jobs in the new industrial north where it would make further developments leading to many genera like swing, big band, blues, and eventually rock and roll. 

 

Statues of the famous Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Pete Fountain & Ronnie Kole at Café Beignet, Bourbon Street New Orleans.

Statues of the famous Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Pete Fountain & Ronnie Kole at Café Beignet, Bourbon Street New Orleans.

Café Beignet, Bourbon Street New Orleans

Café Beignet, Bourbon Street New Orleans

My feet on Dublin Street waiting for Rebirth Brass Band to start.

My feet on Dublin Street waiting for Rebirth Brass Band to start.