Jazz It Up: The History of Jazz in New Orleans

Living in a city that is the birthplace of a musical genre is a magical thing. Jazz music is at the heart and soul of the New Orleans community, and so much of our culture is built around it. People travel to NOLA from all across the globe just to listen to brass bands and trumpet players, and for me personally, it was one of the reasons I fell in love with this city. Although there are so many unique traditions that are specific to New Orleans, jazz music is special because of the international influence it has had. As a Tulane student, I have made it a point to go out into the city and listen to jazz bands at One Eyed Jacks, The Nile, and Bullet’s Sports Bar, which hosts the only all female brass band in the world.

Music is the language of New Orleans. Since the 19th century, the Big Easy has been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of rhythms and songs, with voodoo and African music having a strong presence during the time of slavery. There is a debate amongst historians and locals about when jazz music was actually created- some say that it was in 1895, when Buddy Bolden, one of the founding jazz musicians, created his first band. Others say it started when Jelly Roll Morton started to play in 1902, and he himself claims that he started the music genre. However, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date or founder because jazz music has been constantly evolving for hundreds of years, taking inspiration from African, classical, and blues music. And you can’t talk about jazz and New Orleans without mentioning the king of it all: Louis Armstrong. This legendary artist broke through racial barriers by combining black vernacular with music in order to appeal to everyone. Armstrong set the tone for the next 100 years of jazz music.

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Louis Armstrong Foundation

Today, jazz music can be heard daily throughout the entire city. Taking a stroll through Jackson Square presents traditional jazz bands, and journeying through the French Quarter displays everyone from 10 year-old boys trying to earn a buck, to a 75 year-old woman playing a solo trumpet. Jazz music attracts everyone here in New Orleans, and it sets our city apart from every other.

With Jazz Fest coming up, it is important to know the history of jazz and how it has become what it is a today: a versatile music genre that encompasses artists like Leon Bridges AND Big Freedia. This year, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival runs from April 25th to May 5th, featuring artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, Aloe Blacc, and the Soul Brass Band. This is an incredible time of the year because the love for jazz music is felt throughout the entire city. So my advice to you is to download some music by Ella Fitzgerald and the Rebirth Brass Band, buy tickets to Jazz Fest, and fall in love with this city by learning about its incredible traditions and creations.

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Jazz and Heritage Festival

COVER PHOTO: Justin Haber

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