Jazz was born in New Orleans, shaped in the early twentieth century by the twin talents of Louis Armstrong and Joe “King” Oliver from a diverse heritage of African and Caribbean slave music, Civil War brass bands, plantation spirituals, black church music and work songs. In 1897, in an attempt to control the prostitution that had been rampant in the city since its earliest days, a law was passed that restricted the brothels to a fixed area bounded by Iberville and Basin streets. The area, which soon became known as Storyville, after the alderman who pronounced the ordinance, filled with newly arrived ex-plantation workers, seamen and gamblers, and, from the “mood-setting” tunes played in the brothels to bawdy saloon gigs, there was plenty of opportunity for musicians, in particular the solo piano players known as “professors”, to develop personal styles. Nowadays jazz remains an evolving, organic art form, and you’re spoilt for choice for places to hear it, whether in Second Lines, at the city’s many festivals, in dive bars or sophisticated lounges.
At the heart of it all are the brass bands. Although these have been integral to New Orleans’s street music and parade culture since the nineteenth century, their resurgence in the 1990s led to an explosion of energy on the local jazz scene. Young, ragtag groups blast out a joyful, improvised and danceable cacophony of horns – a kind of homegrown party music that goes down as much of a storm in the student bars as on the backstreet parades. Favourites include ReBirth, the Soul Rebels and the Stooges, who mix trad brass stylings with hard funk, hip-hop, carnival music and reggae. The more traditional bands, meanwhile, whose line-up will typically include old hands and up-and-coming youngsters, play music that is just as danceable and equally popular.