“I'm not sure, but I'm almost positive that all music came from New Orleans."
— Ernie K-Doe
If you’re coming to New Orleans late spring or early summer, you have sadly missed two of our most celebrated music festivals; French Quarter Fest (which was the first weekend in April) and Jazz Heritage Festival (always the last weekend in April and first weekend in May). However, there is always music in New Orleans. As said by the patriarch of one of our musical royal families, Ellis Marsalis, “In New Orleans, culture doesn't come down from on high, it bubbles up from the streets.”
From the time you wake up to a jazz brunch (and hear street musicians on the way there) until the last club closes along Frenchmen Street past three in the morning, live music will be as much a part of your day as eating, drinking, and buying things you probably don’t need.
Our most common nickname, The Big Easy, originated as a musical term. Some assume it derives from the slow and easy way New Orleanians choose to live their lives. A New Orleans astrologer, Lynn Wilson, said of the city, “New Orleans value to the world lies in its charming dysfunctionality. We need a place where “slow” is accepted as the treasure that it is.”
However, the most consistent and reliable derivation seems to come from “back in the day,” when musicians used to ride the rails looking for paying gigs in New York, Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, and elsewhere. Musicians shared the sentiment that New Orleans was the #1 place to go. They tabbed the city the Big Easy because there were so many bars, clubs, dance halls, and juke joints that any halfway decent musician would always have an easy time finding work.
Live music will accompany your meal at restaurants like Palm Court Jazz Cafe, Little Gem Saloon, The Bombay Club, and Bacchanal, among many others. It will be played in your hotel lobby if you stay at The Columns Hotel, Hotel Monteleone, the Jazz Playhouse inside the Royal Sonesta, and the Davenport Lounge inside the Ritz-Carlton. At least four, sometimes five nights a week, you can go bowling while listening to some of the city’s best musicians at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl. The Grammy-nominated Dukes of Dixieland play nightly for the dinner cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez.
During the day, street musicians line Royal Street and Jackson Square, playing for loose change and wrinkled bills. They are a cut above the buskers you’ll find in any other city. Each day the section of Royal Street between St. Ann and St. Louis streets in the French Quarter is closed off from automobile traffic, essentially making it a pedestrian mall. During these hours, Royal Street will be lined with mimes, magicians, palm readers, and people who pretend to be statues and get paid for literally doing nothing. The top draw, however, is always the street musicians. It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and is an integral part of the city’s culture. Said long time civil rights lawyer and defender of public performers, Mary Howell, “Apparently people have been playing music in the streets as long as there has been a city here. You go to other places and they try to create what we already have here—some cities pay people to create this cultural life!”
While widely recognized as the birthplace of Jazz, specifically at Congo Square, New Orleans is likewise an essential sweet spot for blues, gospel, R&B, zydeco and Cajun music, and is the home of both brass band and bounce music. There’d be no funk without The Meters of New Orleans. And record labels No Limit Records and Lil Wayne’s Cash Money Records were and are pivotal in the emergence of hip hop.
Frenchmen Street is considered the musical hub of New Orleans. There are 12 clubs in 2 1/2 blocks where some of our best musicians play every evening from roughly 6:00 or 7:00pm until 3:00am in the wee hours. Stanton Moore, rated the #23 greatest drummer by Rolling Stone magazine, joins his Jazz Trio every Tuesday night at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen. Meschiya Lake, voted best female vocalist in New Orleans 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and I have little doubt 2017, performs most Tuesdays with her band The Little Big Horns at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen and Wednesdays with premier piano player and composer, Tom McDermott, at Chickie Wah Wah on Canal Street.
Lafayette Square hosts Wednesdays at the Square, a free outdoor concert every Wednesday evening 5:00-8:00pm from Mid-March until the end of May. Louis Armstrong Park hosts their free concert series, Jazz in the Park, March through the beginning of June. Take a ferry ride across the river and Wednesdays on the Point, picks up a free concert series from June into August.
You can check to see who’s playing where by bringing up the WWOZ.org website or grabbing a copy of New Orleans monthly (free) magazine devoted to music, OFFBEAT. You can also gain a much greater knowledge of and appreciation for our musical heritage by scheduling the NOLA Tricentennial Tour - The Wonderful World of Jazz Tour.
When you visit New Orleans, connect with NOLA Tricentennial Tours and we will make your experiences memorable ones. Any of our other scripted tours can be tweaked to include a measure of music. We are always willing and anxious to create completely customized tours.
Connect with NOLA Tricentennial Tours via our website (www.nolatricentennialtours.com), or phone (504-294-2647) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
THE CITY THAT CARE FORGOT REMEMBERS - MOMENTS IN NEW ORLEANS’ HISTORY
With our 300th anniversary upon us, each new blog will highlight important or improbable dates
June 22nd, 1947 -
Pistol Pete Maravich was born. Now, he was actually born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania but became a local legend. The nickname "Pistol Pete" came from his style which resembled shooting a hand-gun. He had an unmatched college basketball career at LSU and still holds the NCAA records as the all time leading college scorer (3,667 points, which is over 400 points higher than any other player in history), most points in a single season (1,381), and highest career points per game average (an astounding 44.2).
Some stats nerd with too much time on their hands went back to recalibrate Pistol Pete’s points had the three point shot been in effect. There was no three point line during his career. His points per game average would have gone from an all-time best 44 to a staggering 55 points per game.
When New Orleans got their first NBA team, the Jazz, the new team’s first major move (and misstep) was to trade two first-round draft picks, three second-round picks, and one third-round pick to bring Pistol Pete home to New Orleans from the Atlanta Hawks. The Jazz had Maravich, who led the NBA in scoring, but never could surround him with talented teammates and the team was forever mediocre.
In an interview in 1974, Maravich said, "I don't want to play 10 years in the NBA and then die of a heart attack when I'm 40.” On Jan. 5, 1988, he collapsed after a three-on-three pickup game in Pasadena and died of a heart attack. Pete Maravich was 40.
June 23rd, Every Year -
St John's Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24. It is also the high holy day for the Voodoo faith. The first thing you need to know is that Voodoo is an ancestor based religion very much like Shinto in Japan and with overlaps of Catholicism. Voodoo Queen, Marie LaVeau, was herself a life long Catholic. The Catholic church in Rome recognized Voodoo as legitimate faith in 1960. So, you need to shake loose all those vision of zombies and spells created by 1930s Hollywood movies.
Each June 23rd evening there is a voodoo head washing ceremony (a form of baptism) held at the Magnolia Bridge in Mid-City. You’re supposed to wear all-white. A white scarf on the head is a must. You should also bring an offering for Marie Laveau. She likes flowers, blue and white candles, Creole foods, hair ribbons and hair dressing supplies. She was a hairdresser by trade.
Don’t expect snake handling or naked dancing to drum beats. To quote the movie E.T., “This is reality, Greg.”
June 29th 1967 -
Actress / Blonde Bombshell Jayne Mansfield was killed in a car accident on Chef Menteur Highway just outside New Orleans. She was 34 years old. Mansfield was sort of the Kate Upton meets Scarlett Johansson meets Charlize Theron of her day. Her immediate memorial service was held at the House of Bultman, a longtime funeral home at 3338 St. Charles Ave. Afterward, she had a Beverly Hills service and then her body was sent to Pen Argyle, Pennsylvania to be buried in the family plot.
In addition to her Jessica Rabbit figure, Jayne is remembered for her pink palace home in Beverly Hills with a heart shaped swimming pool. In reality, she had an IQ of 163 and spoke five languages. But she commented the public was much “more interested in 40-21-35.”
After damage from Hurricane Katrina, the funeral home sold the spot to Borders Bookstores rather than undertake expensive repairs. After Borders went under, the location now houses Fresh Market, an upscale grocery store. Be assured, Fresh Market has changed out their cold storage lockers from when it was the House of Bultman funeral home.