By LouisianaTravel.com Staff
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Ellis Marsalis playing at the Snug Harbor
Ellis Marsalis playing at the Snug Harbor music club.

Jazz was born in New Orleans. Congo Square, to be precise. This public square was one of the only places in America where slaves were allowed to gather and play drums. They did so on "free Sundays," where the sharing of African rhythms and dance kept their ancestral tradition alive until, as it happened, it would become the very rhythm of American popular culture.

The Music: Jazz

Jazz is the music that erupted when African (and Afro-Caribbean) and European traditions converged in America, and nowhere was that mix more potent than in New Orleans. By the start of the 19th century, the sounds of opera, brassy military parades, church music and street performances could all be heard in the city. And since music was part of every aspect of social life in New Orleans—including Carnival, debutante balls, vaudeville, Storyville parlors, and even funerals—the port city proved fertile ground for the evolution of this young art form.

The People

Naturally, many of the earliest names in jazz hailed from Louisiana, including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. One of jazz's most original performers, New Orleans' own Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, was as much an ambassador for the music as he was for his hometown. And many others have carried the torch both within Louisiana and around the world, including Kid Ory, Earl Palmer, Louis Prima, Al Hirt, Nellie Lutcher, Sidney Bechet, Pete Fountain, Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, Edward “Kidd” Jordan and Wynton Marsalis.

The Experience: Jazz Music 

There's no better place to hear jazz than in the city that first gave rise to it. Take in traditional New Orleans jazz at places like Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Catch contemporary performers such as Irvin Mayfield, Kermit Ruffins, and brass bands like Dirty Dozen and Rebirth performing regularly throughout New Orleans. And celebrate jazz in all its forms at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, every late April/early May.