Jazz in New Orleans

History of Jazz in New Orleans


While New Orleans is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of jazz, music from New Orleans has been influenced by many cultures and has a wide and varied audience.  Some might say that the development of what we now call the music of New Orleans began before the Civil War, when slaves would gather in Congo Square on Sundays to play music and dance.  The importance of Congo Square in the development of New Orleans music is recognized by the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which has given the name to one of its largest stages.  Buddy Bolden, a cornetist, is considered by many to be the first prominent jazz musician.  His band is credited with creating the first syncopated bass rhythm to deviate from the traditional marching band rhythm.  Later musicians such as jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton and the famous Louis Armstrong acknowledged the importance of Bolden’s influence.  New Orleans jazz music didn’t gain national popularity until the 1910s, when  the term “jazz” became popular as a way to differentiate between New Orleans music, with its African and Cuban influences, and the ragtime that was popular in other parts of the United States.  While some refer to this kind of music as Dixieland jazz, most New Orleans musicians prefer the term “traditional jazz.”  

The Evolution of Jazz in New Orleans


Jazz in New Orleans continued to evolve over the decades.  In the 1920s, referred to by some as “the Jazz Age,”  trumpet player Louis Armstrong was a master of traditional jazz and an innovator of the new “hot” jazz, and Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band performed on the West Coast and became the first black jazz band of New Orleans origin to make records.  In the 1930s, jazz music was dominated by big swing bands, with notable performers including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman.  In the 1940s, Duke Ellington’s “American Music” transcended and synthesized the boundaries between New Orleans jazz and swing, and traditional jazz music from New Orleans was seen as outdated.  The late 1940s saw what some call a “Dixieland revival,” where older-style music was re-released and re-recorded.  


Jazz in New Orleans Today


Today, jazz music from New Orleans is very diverse, reflecting many different styles of jazz music.  New Orleans high schools and universities are known for their strong music programs, drawing a constant flow of young and innovating musicians to the city.  The active festival circuit in and around New Orleans also contributes to the diversity of music from New Orleans.  Many high school students play in brass bands, marching in Mardi Gras parades and playing at football games.  The New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts has a world renowned music program, where aspiring musicians are trained by some of the best and most-decorated artists in their fields.  The University of New Orleans and Loyola University are both known for their excellent music programs.  Students of music from New Orleans have many ways to practice and develop their skills, which has created a very diverse and vibrant community of musicians.