New Orleans Music

History of New Orleans Jazz


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 New Orleans jazz 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 Influence of New Orleans Jazz


Since the heyday of traditional New Orleans jazz, many musicians have innovated the jazz sound in new and exciting ways, but traditional jazz always has a place in the hearts of the New Orleans music community.  Musicians such as Wynton Marsalis have built careers in combining traditional jazz with newer, more innovative styles, and traditional jazz venues such as Preservation Hall in New Orleans continue to thrive.  New Orleans jazz has influenced musicians all over the world.  It has been designated as a national cultural treasure by the United States Congress.  New Orleans jazz has become an iconic sound, immortalized in classic film and in contemporary popular culture, such as the HBO series “Treme.”


New Orleans Music Today


New Orleans music today includes much more than jazz.  New Orleans was also the home of rhythm and blues, where Fats Domino, among others, wrote and recorded some of the earliest rhythm and blues hits.  New Orleans has also had a thriving rock and roll scene, with bars such as the Dream Palace hosting legendary rock and roll shows in the 1970s and 1980s.  In addition, New Orleans has developed a niche role in the heavy metal scene, including bands such as Down.  Finally, New Orleans hip hop and bounce music has become a heavily influential cultural export, beginning in the mid 1990s with hip hop labels such as No Limit Records and Cash Money records.  New Orleans is a cultural melting pot of European, African, and Caribbean influences, and this is reflected in New Orleans music.  Musicians from all over the world come to New Orleans to play at Jazz Fest, Voodoo Fest, French Quarter Fest, and many other regional music and cultural festivals, and music fans flock to the city for an experience they can’t get anywhere else in the world.