New Orleans, LA

A short history of music in New Orleans

Curtis Macken

NEW ORLEANS, LA - From being the birthplace of jazz to producing musicians notable across the states, music has always been part of New Orleans' cultural identity.

Before the civil war, many talented musicians performed in New Orleans, ranging from orchestra musicians with fine brass instruments to those who played simpler ones like banjoes, fiddles, drums, and harmonicas.

When the war ended, brass and wind instruments used by disbanded military bands flooded the market. For the first time, cornets, trombones, or clarinets became affordable to young musicians.

In the following decades, African music and its rhythms in bold brass sound grew in New Orleans. American folk music, French American music, blues and gospel from the Deep South, playful rhythms of Sicilian, and European style orchestra music were added to the mix, influencing the New Orleans musicians who would eventually invent jazz.

In the late 1800s, the precursor to jazz known as ragtime music grew out of the red-light districts. Musicians called 'professors' would entertain guests at bars and brothel parlors with their lively music.

By the 1910s, Dixieland Jazz which now can still be heard in New Orleans became the identifiable sound of a new genre rising from the streets of the Crescent City. ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton, Sidney Bechet, Joe ‘King’ Oliver, and Nick LaRocca from Sicilian became the early New Orleans jazz musicians.

During World War I, as the navy built a new base across the Mississippi River and closed all gambling pubs and brothels, New Orleans jazz musicians went out of work. Musicians like Louis Armstrong and their jazz bands decided to leave New Orleans, eventually introducing jazz music throughout America and beyond.

Ever since the first Jazz musicians left to spread their music, many other musicians have joined as well, such as Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, the Marsalis family of Jazz musicians, Harry Connick, Jr., and Kermit Ruffins.

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