New Orleans is one of our nation’s top music destinations and despite the headlines of widespread devastation and disrepair from Hurricane Katrina, most of the areas of the city that tourists come to see are up to their pre-Katrina status.
Visitors can expect to experience plenty of music attractions in New Orleans from live jazz, New Orleans blues, Cajun, Creole, southern rock, gospel, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, to just about every other style of music.
Homegrown talent and live music are everywhere from renowned clubs like Tipitina’s and House of Blues to street corners and small neighborhood hangouts. Impromptu musical parades wind through the streets and invite inspired bystanders to become “second line” participants and join in the fun.
New Orleans is a musical experience on a different level. Nowhere else in the country do musicians and the community unite so completely in their openness and love for music. Musical families go back for generations, yet non-native musicians are welcomed on stage. Here are 10 musical encounters to explore during a visit to the Big Easy.
Take a jazz walking tour
Visit the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park to learn how the city became the birthplace of jazz. The park features seasonal exhibits, lectures, films, concerts, and walking tours. Calendars and walking tour maps are available at the park, as well as online. The park’s Visitor Center is at 916 N. Peters Street.
See the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections
The New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum, at 400 Esplanade Ave, is the largest collection of instruments owned and played by prominent jazz figures, including Louis Armstrong’s horns, Jack Laine’s bass drum, and Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet. The museum’s photo collection holds around 10,000 images and the recordings collection includes 10,000 recordings.
Attend a Full Gospel Service
Famed New Orleans jazz musician and historian Danny Barker once said that, in contemporary times, the best music in the city is found in the gospel churches. The choir of Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church at 2308 S. Liberty St. is one of the best in the nation with gifted soloists backed by talented musicians. Packed Sunday services reach across race and nationality. Call 504-895-6800 for more information.
Shop for a musical souvenir
Located at 210 Decatur Street, Louisiana Music Factory has a wide selection of Louisiana and New Orleans music—from Louis Armstrong to zydeco. They have hard-to-find titles, as well as a large collection of rare vinyl recordings. Check out www.louisianamusicfactory.com and you may be able to catch live in-store performances.
Stroll along Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street can be rowdy and intense, but you should take the stroll at least one evening. When you’ve had enough craziness, step off the street and visit a Big Easy piano bar. Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop at Bourbon and St. Phillip Streets has a piano in the back corner. The shop was once a front for the Lafitte brothers’ privateer enterprises and has electricity in only half of the bar. Just off Bourbon, at 718 St. Peter Street is New Orleans staple Pat O’Brien’s and its popular Piano Bar featuring two baby grands.
Learn about jazz funerals
Jazz Funerals are one of the city’s most unique and cherished traditions. Chances are you will not happen upon one during your visit, but you can catch a glimpse of one at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Treme section of New Orleans. The Backstreet Museum has a permanent display of jazz funeral memorabilia, including the largest video library of jazz funerals.
Go for a Dixieland Cruise
Early jazz developed aboard steamboats sailing out of the city. None of those early vessels still exist but you can enjoy a Dixieland jazz cruise, complete with brunch or dinner, aboard the steamboat Natchez (www.steamboatnatchez.com).
Take a step back in time with veteran jazz musicians
Preservation Hall (www.preservationhall.com), at 762 St. Peter St., was created in 1961 to protect and honor New Orleans style jazz and is a unique opportunity to hear the genre played by veteran musicians, some in their 70s and 80s, as well as younger musicians learning the tradition. The doors usually open at 8:00 p.m., but a line often forms by 7:30.
Share live music with the locals
The Faubourg Marigny, neighboring the French Quarter, is a place locals congregate to hear live music. Along Frenchmen Street Ellis Marsalis and Charmaine Neville perform often at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro; d.b.a. offers up live blues, Cajun, funk, and R&B; and The Spotted Cat presents all sorts of funky roots music from traditional jazz to Latin. Also on Frenchmen Street is the former home of Jelly Roll Morton.
Move your feet to a Cajun beat
Several locations in the city offer live Cajun music and dancing, including Mulate’s at 201 Julia St., near the Convention Center. Mid-City Lanes Rock ’n Bowl at 4133 S. Carrollton Avenue is a great place to sample local genres and has Wednesday night Cajun zydeco.