So you have decided to visit New Orleans to get your fill of good ol' Nawlins Jazz
and your not sure, when you should visit? well, I'm not sure when the best time is
but i can surely help you make your own decision.
First off, there are many self proclaimed "jazz Festivals" that i would be very cautious
to trust, as i find most the acts are not jazz at all, aside from the modern music which
still claims to be Jazz, it's Pop acts you'd find on MTV.
The French Quarter Festival is mid april and has become known as the best Jazz festival,
It has not only been more open to outside bands but it has also stayed in touch with
the cities scene, giving many local bands opportunities to perform.
Since Katrina a music scene has erupted in New Orleans, Not only in
Jazz but in many styles of American roots music, From String bands and Mountain music to
Stompin Blues players, and when you talking to these players on the street you hear the names
of 1920's legends dropped as influences.
These days the scene revolves primarily around Frenchmen st. with a few places in the surrounding area, such as Mimi's just down Royal and a couple places on Saint Claude like the Hi Ho and the Always Lounge, just off Frenchmen on Esplanade there is the Balcony music club as well which is a hit or miss. There are still a handful of places in the Quarter as well, but you'd want to check who is playing before going. The area is known for bad jazz, if not cheesy dixieland, it's some modern Mile's davis influenced group that drives you no where except for drinking....
The greatest sound to come out of this post Katrina music scene are the bands who have studied New Orleans history
and sound. All of these bands get different influences from sounds they like back in the day, then they put it together how they like, creating their own thing which is rooted in New Orleans.
Keep in mind, there are also the Brass Bands, they've always been here, and their music goes hand in hand. It Those bands which get the young playing, keep em playing, get good and make something of themselves, going into other types of music,become teachers, start other Bands, gig around town etc...
So then after Katrina here comes some younger folk playing the streets and sounding like the old Johnny Dodds bands, or Sam Morgan's Jazz Band, the Sounds of George Lewis influenced clarinet cutting through the streets...more then just the tourist turn their heads.
The city is still fill with jazz fanatics, professional listeners, educators and armchair historians, and before long another band starts up using some of the same players, with the addition of more musicians including drums. Some of the old musicians start sitting in with the new musicians and magic is made.
I'm sure a large in depth article could be written on this, but the point is, New Orleans Jazz is alive. Right now, you can come anytime and hit Frenchmen street, either DBA or the Spotted Cat and you will get a great band...Fritzels on Bourbon is a place to check as well.
Right now, the bands to see that are influenced by earlier music are the
Loose Marbles, Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, Tuba Skinny Jazz Band
,Moonshiners.Then there would be bands that have that late 30's Swing or jump rhythm
like New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings, Palmetto Bug Stompers, Jazz Vipers, Washboard Chaz Blues, heck and Panorama Jazz Band. Of course, there is a grey area of styles, I've seen it many times, when these players start to mix up.
The Cotton Mouth Kings use collective improvisation in the old New Orleans way, while trying to maintain swinging rhythm more associated with kansas City in the late 1930's, the Cottonmouth Kings call it pure New Orleans Swing.
Check out the Loose Marbles, classic New Orleans music at it's finest, you just don't find bands like this anywhere in the world, and they play at the Spotted Cat twice a week. Another amazing band is Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Horns, a modern day Bessie Smith, who sings on the streets regularly and regards it as a day job when the weather permits. You can also catch her around town, including the Spotted cat on Tuesdays. I've recently watched her sing at Preservation Hall with the Preservation Hall band and that was a special treat.
Yes, these are good times for New Orleans. The spring time will bring the annual migration of out of town musicians looking for gold, the festival season will have started and the weather will be warming up. Depending on what you want to get out of your trip, I'd avoid the festivals. it's normally a lot of drunk people, depending on the conventions in town or festivals just alters who is the drunk. Make reservations early other wise, tourist eat this hotels up. Holiday Inn seems to be a middle of the road typical place, But I suggest some place around the Marigny.
If you haven't been here before and your strapped for time, perhaps a quick weekend? No problem, without even thinking twice, I'd recommend eating, drinking a tiny bit of walking "just to see something cool and historic" and checking out bands for two nights. You will be so baptized by the energy, that you will already be planning your next trip on your first day here.
The second trip, which you'll plan for much longer you can get the in depth official tourist tour, that is if you care. Regardless, you'll already be in the know, on where the good music and scene is, not to mention food...so you'll be able to explore the city now, knowing just where to come home to.....Frenchmen street.
When ya hit the streets here for the first time, You'll want to walk down Royal St. and check out the bands, as well as Jackson Square. Normally on an off day, I'll get Lunch down in the French Quarter, and change a 20 dollar bill for 1's. and spend the afternoon checking out all the bands and tip them all. I already have all their CD's i've collected , so Its a great deal for a days worth of entertainment and live music....and i can't wait to hear some of the bands make CD's who haven't yet!
Anyways, there is no doubt the music scene here thrives on tourism. The sad thing is obviously Bourbon street is nothing but mindless party music, background noise to the money machine churning out beer at fire hose speeds. It pours into the economy so i guess nobody can complain. As long as a enough of these tourist are attracted these Jazz Clubs, we will be fine, and hopefully even room for more clubs to open dedicated to this old time tradition that seems to be back on it's feet...