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The city known as the ‘Big Easy’ may have a laid-back vibe on the surface, but there’s a party animal lurking just beneath, and its roots lie in jazz music! The origins of the New Orleans’ jazz scene began in the early 1900s, when a mix of African and European traditions led to greater improvisation and a new style of playing.
The sound caught on in dancehalls and soon went global. Today, there are countless venues playing homage to the traditional New Orleans jazz style, as well as showcasing modern interpretations. There’s also the world’s most famous celebration of the style in the shape of the New Orleans jazz fest! Don’t miss stepping into a proper jazz club during your time in the city — it’s one of the best ways to experience a true taste of New Orleans after dark.
Preservation Hall is one of the spiritual homes of New Orleans jazz, and it remains a venue dedicated to its original style. You’ll find it in the heart of the French Quarter on St Peter Street, protected by an iron gate. There’s a truly uplifting vibe to the Preservation Hall, which plays between three and five performances every night. Tables and chairs are set aside and dancing is firmly encouraged! The venue is also home to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, one of the leading lights of the traditional New Orleans jazz sound.
What to know
The Preservation Hall jazz club sprang up in the 1950s, initially as a small art gallery on the same street. The owner, Larry Borenstein, opened up the gallery to jazz musicians as the work was cutting into his own music-viewing time.
The move proved so popular that the club remained open throughout the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, with racially-mixed bands and audiences continuing regardless. This free-thinking attitude remains integral to the club’s philosophy today, where jazz remains king and everything else comes second!
Traditional New Orleans jazz and swing.
The 21st Amendment
In American history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933 and did away with a previous amendment that created prohibition. Booze was legal again, but of course, thanks to the American Mafia and many others, it had never gone away.
The club named in memory of this historical event can be found in the French Quarter, and takes the repeal of prohibition as its primary theme. You’ll find 1930s furniture alongside an exquisite cocktail menu, all based on recipes from the same decade. Oh, and images of the mob will be watching you, but don’t let that put you off!
What to know
The 21st Amendment can be found within Hotel Mazarin. It began purely as a restaurant — La Louisiane — which still serves up delicious local dishes. Today’s attendees might be interested to learn that the restaurant was owned by two of New Orleans’ most famous gangsters: Carlos Marcello and Diamond Jim Moran.
The 21st Amendment is an intimate venue with around 30 seats and standing room. You’ll generally find three different sets of music played every evening, in a range of styles from traditional New Orleans jazz to bebop and even funk.
The Spotted Cat
The Spotted Cat is one of New Orleans’ most famous and popular jazz clubs. Step inside and you’ll quickly see why! There’s a definite lived-in feel to this traditional venue and it matches all expectations of what a jazz club should be. If you want to walk into a venue that still feels like something from the 1920s, this is the place to go.
What to know
Should you make it to The Spotted Cat and think you’ve been there before, there’s a reason for this sense of déjà vu. Chances are you’ve seen the venue featured in a film or TV series. Probably the most famous of these was in the HBO series Treme. This drama focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
Decked out in a 1920s-themed décor, the music is played to match, with traditional and swing outfits crowding the stage seven nights a week. Visitors should bear in mind that the owners of The Spotted Cat also own Café Negril nearby. Once you’ve had your fill of traditional jazz, be sure to stop by there to hear some blues and funk.
Bacchanal Fine Wines & Spirits
For something a little bit different, try Bacchanal, a wine shop that also plays jazz and serves food. The front part of the building looks like any other store, housing a fine selection of reds, whites, and fizz. But carry on through and you’ll discover the backyard patio, the stage for Bacchanal’s alter ego as a cool jazz venue. Here, you can listen to your music under the moon!
What to know
Bacchanal may be a laid-back and relaxing jazz joint these days, but it had a major part to play in the city’s recovery following Hurricane Katrina. With many restaurants in ruin, the building hosted famous chefs from around the city who had nowhere else to cook, with live jazz in accompaniment. Bacchanal had no license to serve either food or play music, and was shut down as a result. However, the seed was sown, and after a year of legal wrangling, the site won the right to become the place it remains today.
You’ll find a mixed bag of styles at Bacchanal, from swing and bebop to modal and cool jazz.
The Blue Nile
The Blue Nile is one of the most famous jazz clubs in one of New Orleans’ most iconic districts — Frenchman Street. The club sits on the same site as the now-defunct Dream Palace, famed for being the first club in the area to feature live bands. Thankfully, the Blue Nile took that legacy and ran with it, making it one of the premier live jazz venues in the city.
What to know
This is a great place to go for the indecisive. The Blue Nile houses two floors of music so you can be sure to find something to set your hips swinging, whatever your taste! The building also has a balcony that looks out on one of the premier night-time spots in New Orleans — a great place for people-watching as the grooves go on behind you.
Whilst mainly featuring jazz, the Blue Nile has an eclectic roster, with funk and soul bands regularly in attendance. There’s often a touch of fusion going on, a delicious mix of jazz and funk. On occasion, you can even hear traditional bluegrass being played.
If you’re thinking of having a New Orleans adventure, don’t hesitate. You’ll experience a unique side of America, and one completely in touch with its traditional influences. Enjoy your jazz in New Orleans — you’ll be shaking your thang to a style that’s over 100 years old, and one that’s still filling dance floors across the world!
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