Music and All That Jazz
First of all, if you can make it, one of the most remarkable events of the year in Nola is New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that takes place for ten days in spring. (You can still make it this year!)
In my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like it. Nola loves jazz, and Jazz Fest takes it all to a new level. Thousands of bands, thousands of people, local culture and cuisine, parades—a party unlike anything you’ll ever witness or experience anywhere else.
Perhaps it’s all because of the curious beginnings. Unlike many things in NOLA, Jazz Fest does not go back hundreds of years! Many groups had jazz fest during the 1960s but it was 1970 when George Weinwas brought in. He’d already started a few jazz festivals, so he knew what he was doing. And he did. He didn’t head down Bourbon Street, he found the best performers he could in the city by going to the local venues—and even asking musicians in he had seen playing on the street. Mahalia Jackson attended that New Orleans Heritage Fair in Congo Square. She began to sing, and while there were about 350 attendees to the fest that first year, it blossomed into
something magnificent immediately. Duke Ellington was there, Al Hirt was there . . . the festival was something that sprang to life with an essence all its own and has since blossomed into one of the finest examples of such an event to be found anywhere. Music, food, art, vendors, concerts, culture, and Mardi Gras “Indians,” all come together to fill the air and the city with jazz. Now, there’s an International Pavilion, there are the biggest names in the music industry, and no matter where the performers come from, they become essentially part of the city while Jazz Fest goes on and it now stretches out for ten days, taking in two weekends.
I don’t think there’s anything quite like it anywhere. If you’re ever able to attend, you should. (Unless you hate music!)
Yes, the city gets crazy. And there’s actually a different kind of crazy for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Both are unique here. Will hotel prices go up? Yes. Should you book well ahead? You bet! I especially love Jazz Fest because my sister wentwith co-workers from Delta Airlines every year and, she told me once, it was something that really kept them all going. Trust me—if you go once, you’re going to want to go again.
However, if you can’t make Jazz Fest and want to go to NOLA at a different time of year, fear not. You will find jazz.
There are a number of restaurants where you can go for a jazz brunch. One fun and lovely place we’ve been often is the Court of Two Sisters. (For some reason, I spent years trying to make it the Court of Three Sisters, but no, there were just two.) As mentioned in “Food!” there really were two sisters who once had a “notions” shop here but now it’s a lovely and historic building where they serve up a jazz brunch on Sundays that is wonderful. There’s a courtyard where, if the weather in nice, you you can get a real feel of the ambiance. There’s a nice big buffet,friendly service, the charm of the traditional courtyard, and—jazz.
Another favorite of mine where you’ll get a charming group of three walking around to entertain you while you dine is Muriel’s. The entertainers are delightful and the menu is delicious. If you go, make sure you walk around and see the whole restaurant while you’re listening.
These are just two of the venues. Many, many places do jazz brunch. And while I just mentioned my favorites, you may come with your own—and then look down your nose at me if you choose because you’ve found something you like sooo much better!
I’ve gone to New Orleans often as long as I can remember. After Katrina, so much was down that the city performers and club and restaurant owners were desperate to get people back into the city. Now, I’m a Journey fan, but it did seem that at first that as you walked along, every club there had a group doing Journey. On Bourbon, you’re still going tofind a bit more of what we all know (and do love.) With years having passed now, I’m thrilled to say that even on Bourbon, you’ll now find jazz and blues. And if you’ve never been to NOLA, you do have to walk down Bourbon Street just so that you can see the fun and craziness and of course, you’ve been on Bourbon Street. You can catch great acts here—and if you want to “music” it yourself, you can drop into “The Cat’s Meow,” a karaoke club. It gets busy and crazy so drop your song in fast!
That having been said, my favorite place to head for music is Frenchman Street. Here you’ll find all kinds of great little atmospheric clubs. You’ll hear the up and coming—yes, yes, you know that name, you love them! You’ll also hear the new groups, the local groups, starting out. And what’s wonderful is that so much of it is so good, in later years you’ll be able to say, “Wow! They’re huge now and I saw them when they were at that little place on Frenchman.”
Whether they become huge or not, the great thing is that you’ll hear exceptionally fine musicians and get a sense of the local music scene. Blue Nile (532 Frenchman Street) is one of my favorite places to go, but if you head out at night and start there, walk on down Frenchman. I’m not saying you can’t go wrong—just that it will be hard to do so!
Nice, upscale, with a bit of the British Isles? I say try the Bombay Club. That’s in the French Quarter at 830 Conti Street.
Also, check out Preservation Hall—and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.Preservation Hall was formed in the early sixties to see that, well, jazz was preserved. And the band! Wow.
But, no matter where you go, you’ll find music. Here’s the amazing thing about New Orleans. Music is everywhere. There’s a gentleman who plays on Royal Street who has been there as long as I can remember. He’s a one-man band, with stringed instruments, a harmonica, a washboard, and more. He’ll sing a Broadway tune, slip into a blues number, and then regale you with a pop number. You don’t have to pay to see him—though, of course, there’s a guitar case in front of him so that you can donate for the pleasure of hearing him. The thing is—he’s a finer musician than many I’ve paid a great deal to see and his voice is fantastic.