New Orleans CVB
History of Music in the Big Easy
In the 18th century, the French and Creoles lived for musicales, balls accompanied by string orchestras, and picnics set to Old World brass bands. Considered the new Paris, La Nouvelle OrlÃ©ans was the first city in America to stage opera. In the 19th century, proceeds from public balls helped finance the first full-time opera company. Whatever has changed over the last three centuries, the musical heritage remains.
The classics are still going strong in an ensemble of companies and programs like the Delta Festival Ballet, New Orleans Opera and Musical Arts Society. In 1991, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra was the only full-time, player-managed symphony orchestra in the United States. World-class guest performers and conductors support the LPO donating funds, time and services.
Coined in Chicago sometime before 1913, the word jazz began as jass and jaz, meaning energetic or vigorous.
Birthplace of Jazz
West Indian slaves of African descent were the touchpoint of New Orleans music. On Sunday afternoons, slaves socialized in Congo Square (now part of Louis Armstrong Park on Rampart Street), where they performed tribal dances and chants with stirring rhythms to African percussions. Thousands of citizensâ€”black, Creole, and whiteâ€” gathered to watch the spectacles.
It has been suggested that Charles â€œBuddyâ€ Bolden, was among the onlookers at the Square and that he mixed those tribal and Creole elements with African-American ragtime and spirituals, folk songs, the blues, and even the cries of the street vendors who once filled the Vieux CarrÃ©, interpreting them with a European brass sound. (The Irish, Germans and Italians contributed the brass.)
Some time in the Gay â€˜90s, Buddy put his cornet to his lips and blew hot notes and cool tunes that became the music we call jazz. Heâ€™d invented an American original and a worldwide phenomenon.
As with the original African music, the key to jazz was and is improvisation. In the early days, musicians often started with a blues piece as a reference point and played their way into a new composition. Nothing much has changed there for the greats, except it doesnâ€™t have to start with blues.
Jazz picked up momentum in Storyville, where early improvisational masters like King Oliver, his protÃ©gÃ© Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton (the first to set jazz compositions on paper) played.
Lately, a new jazz generation has emerged under the tutelage of patriarch Ellis Marsalis. His sons Wynton and Branford and his one-time student Harry Connick, Jr., are some of the young lions who have taken jazz in new directions and rediscovered old standards. Their students and protÃ©gÃ©s are only the fourth generation of what has become an international classic. Jazz festivals are now held around the worldâ€” Montreux, Switzerland to Monterey, California. But the home of them all is New Orleans.
The jazz funeral grew out of two traditions. In West Africa (ancestral home of West Indies and New Orleans slaves) tribesmen buried their own with a processional and music.
In 19th-century New Orleans, when members of private clubs called â€œbenevolent societiesâ€ died, they were given stirring sendoffs at funeral processions lead by marching bands. On the way to the cemetery, they played slow hymns and dirges to comfort the friends and relatives.
Afterwards, the brass bands struck up rousing tunes celebrating the soulâ€™s flight to heavenly vistas. An unofficial after guard of parade followers, called second- liners, waved handkerchiefs and umbrellas as they sang and danced with the music.
These days, jazz funerals are usually arranged only for music greats, although the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Faubourg TremÃ© stages an All Saints Day jazz funeral.
Land of Dixie
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, ten-dollar bills were printed bilingually in French and English. Dix, French for ten, was engraved in large letters on the back, and the bills were known as dixies. It was either from the land of these dixies or from a corruption of the Mason-Dixon line to Dixieline that Dixieland jazz got its name.
Dixieland style is hard to define. Commonly harder-driving than other forms of jazz, instruments often include a banjo and a tuba, and vocalists are rare. The ensemble musicians take turns improvising in solos. Itâ€™s upbeat, with a 4/4 meter, but a 2-beat style, something like ragtime.
Bit of the Blues
The blues may have originated elsewhere, but a blues sensibility runs deeper here than the river currents.
Starting in 1949, Fats Domino took rhythm and blues to gold on the hit charts with â€œThe Fat Manâ€ and â€œBlueberry Hill.â€
Bluesman Henry Roeland Byrd, aka. Professor Longhair (Fess to his friends), began as a tap dancer, played piano in honky-tonks, and created a style that mixed Latin rumba, mambo and calypso stylings with an Afro-Caribbean beat interpreted with a percussive keyboard style. His â€œGo to the Mardi Grasâ€ became a local anthem.
In the â€˜60s Creole pianist Allen Toussaint penned hits for Queen of the Blues, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville and Ernie K-Doe. With the invasion of English rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones, the blues were swept aside until the â€˜70s, when New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival reintroduced the style to new generations of music lovers.
Cajun & Zydeco Music
Cajuns, who were expelled from Acadia in Nova Scotia in 1755, brought music of French origins with them to Louisiana. Then it simmered in a gumbo of Native American, Creole, West Indian, British, Spanish and other European influences. Now, Cajun tunes are primarily thought of as dance music: gallops, reels, polkas, cotillions. After 1925, the accordion, a German addition, accompanied the fiddles and pumped up the volume to carry across crowded dance floors. Cajun singers pitched their voices high and cried out, both from emotion and to be heard above the din. The steel guitar and other instruments came a few years later.
Mixing the same European and New World ingredients, Creoles threw in African and West Indian rhythms and soulful blues and produced a variation of the Cajun music. Then, in the â€˜40s, influenced by Creole compositions, piano accordionist Clifton Chenier formed a band with his brother, Cleveland, who played percussion on the washboard. Cleveland graduated to corrugated tin played with spoons and bottle openers and finally to the trademark Zydeco instrument, the frottoir.
The name Zydeco came from a French phrase, les haricots sont pas salÃ©s (the snapbeans arenâ€™t salted). In Cajun dialect it emerged as Chenierâ€™s signature song: â€œZydeco Sont Pas SalÃ©.â€
The Quadroon Ballroom of yesteryear is just a few steps away from the Jazz & Heritage Festival of today. Cajuns still dance to variations of the European steps played in the Quadroon ballroom: contradanses, mazurkas and valses. The African, American, Caribbean, Creole and European elements fermented into a heady mix of music that defines the soul of the city.
* Jazz began as a synthesis of tribal Afro-Caribbean chants (set to percussion instruments of bone and proto-tambourines), African-American spirituals, blues, and ragtime, folk songs, and European brass instruments. Some say the cries of French Quarter vendors worked their way into the jazz mix.
* The tradition of the brass instruments used in jazz came primarily from Germany, Italy, and Ireland, where brass marching parades had long been celebrating feast days.
* Tipitinaâ€™s is named after a song by Henry Roeland Byrd a.k.a., Professor Longhair and Fess to his friends. For luck, rub the head of Professor Longhairâ€™s bust at the original Tipitinaâ€™s on Napoleon Avenue.
* Buddy Bolden, often credited with inventing jazz, played his cornet so loud, they say it could be heard a mile away, across the river in Algiers.
* Jelly Roll Morton was the first to get the very improvisational music of jazz on paper, translating the tunes into musical notation.
* The frottoir, the trademark Zydeco instrument, developed from a washboard and corrugated tin played with bottle openers.
* The name Zydeco came from a corrupted French phrase, les haricots sont pas salÃ©s (the snapbeans arenâ€™t salted). In Cajun dialect, it emerged as Zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenierâ€™s signature song: â€œZydeco Sont Pas SalÃ©.â€
* The term Dixieland may have come from the New Orleans $10 bill on which DIX, French for ten was printed in large letters.
* Queen of the Blues, Irma Thomas, learned to apply makeup from a group of female impersonators in the dressing room of Harlemâ€™s Apollo Theater.
* Jazz artist, teacher and patriarch Ellis Marsalis, father to musicians Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason, was Harry Connick, Jr.â€™s teacher at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
* These jazz greats all played in New Orleansâ€™ Storyville bordellos: Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Paul Barbarin, Kid Ory, Freddy Keppard, Bunk Johnson, Henry â€œRedâ€ Allen, and Manuel Perez.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. Fall 2004.