Ellis Marsalis playing piano at Snug
No one can really pinpoint the exact time and place that jazz music
was born, nor can one person be credited alone for the true
American art form. Yet, one fact remains: New Orleans is the queen
city for the musical genre.
Jazz is alive and thriving in the Crescent City, but if you want
to see New Orleans jazz up close, personal and authentic, you have
to go farther than Bourbon Street. It’s not to say Bourbon doesn’t
have its share of eclectic clubs and lounges that promote local
talent, but the majority of authentic New Orleans sound lies beyond
the famed street.
Like a cookie cutter breaking up dough, New Orleans splits into
numerous neighborhoods within its crescent shape surrounded by
water. Most of the music venues now open lie along the river from
one end of the parish to another, with a few existing in the
recovery areas. Because of the crescent shape, it’s difficult to
make sense of where you are or what direction you’re traveling in,
so make sure you have a map handy before heading off and are clear
on which neighborhood contains which bar.
Uptown, which means upriver from the downtown area and French
Quarter, features a host of bars that offer a variety of New
Orleans music, in addition to jazz. Most of the area was not
flooded and has rebounded since Katrina.
Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Avenue, may be the most famous of New
Orleans clubs, offering up a wide selection of New Orleans rhythm
and blues artists, in addition to the occasional national group and
a Sunday Cajun “Fais Do-Do” (Cajun dance). The club gets its name
from a song by one of New Orleans’ most famous pianists, Henry
Roeland Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair.
On any given week, visitors to Tipitina’s can listen to the
Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans legends such as Walter “Wolfman”
Washington and a wide variety of bands. Special events are common,
such as the Sunday Music Workshop Series, which are free workshops
that pair music students with some of the city’s finest
Farther uptown in the Carrollton neighborhood is Maple Street
Bar, 8316 Oak Street, offering a variety of South Louisiana sounds,
from blues and traditional jazz to Caribbean and Merengue, with the
occasional poetry reading. The historic building routinely
spotlights New Orleans musicians Johnny Vidacovich, George Porter
Jr., Anders Osborne and the ReBirth Brass Band.
Kermit Ruffins at Tipitinas
For something truly eclectic, head over to Mid-City, where
Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl serves up hot music while visitors
enjoy a leisurely round of bowling or a drink at the wide bar. Like
other venues, Mid-City provides variety, but its best show is the
visiting zydeco artists from Southwest Louisiana. Curley Taylor,
Keith Frank and Geno Delafose are some of the top zydeco artists
today, and they all play Mid-City regularly.
If bowling is your thing, Rock ‘n’ Bowl can set you up for $15
per hour, per lane, and $1 for the shoe rental, in addition to a
minimal cover charge. Bowling parties, complete with food, can be
arranged as well.
Jazz aficionados will want to visit Frenchman Street, just
downriver from the French Quarter in a neighborhood known as the
Fauborg Marigny. Within one block on the other side of Esplanade
Avenue (one of the boundary streets of the Quarter) lies several
outstanding clubs that offer regular New Orleans jazz.
Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchman Street, offers jazz nightly at 9 p.m.
and 11 p.m., honoring locals John Boutte, Ellis Marsalis (father to
Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo, who occasionally perform there as
well), Alvin Batiste, Irvin Mayfield and Charmaine Neville, among
The Apple Barrel, 523 Frenchman Street, offers steaming hot jazz
inside its small, eclectic interior for the cost of a drink.
Enjoy a Rogue Dead Guy beer, or any other interesting drink,
while listening to local talent at d.b.a., 618 Frenchman Street. If
you want a sneak peek, check out their live Web cam at
The ReBirth Brass Band closes the
night at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl.
Another boundary of the Quarter is Rampart Street, where slaves
once congregated in Congo Square on Sundays to dance, sing and
socialize, the only such occurrence in slavery America and one that
contributed to the emergence of jazz. Now Louis Armstrong Park, the
street plays host to eclectic bars. (Again, visitors used to more
sophisticated jazz joints may think “dive” a better description,
but this is true New Orleans.)
The Funky Butt, 714 Rampart Street, is a classic among natives
and features modern jazz and other genres but is undergoing
restoration. But clients can visit Donna’s Bar and Grill across the
street at 800 Rampart Street and enjoy hot barbecue with the sounds
of indigenous brass bands and jazz. On the night we visited, a
delectable scent emanated from the kitchen while the Algiers Brass
Band rocked the house with its signature Big Easy sound.
Concluding a night of live music, head to Vaughn’s Lounge, 4229
Dauphine Street in the Bywater neighborhood, where another
trumpeter extraordinaire, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers,
perform Thursdays while serving up Ruffins’ own barbecue and red
beans and rice at midnight for a mere cover of about $10. Following
in the New Orleans jazz tradition, Ruffins owns an Armstrong
influence, plus years playing with the Rebirth Brass Band, one of
the city’s finest and most famous brass bands.
For a weeklong visit of New Orleans, this should occupy even the
most die-hard music listener. However, these neighborhood joints
only scratch the surface. Howlin Wolf in the Warehouse District
pounds out rock and hot jazz, O’Flaherty’s and Kerry Irish Pub in
the Quarter specializes in Celtic, and the Rivershack Tavern in the
suburbs rocks its charming former grocery store with blues and
rock. The House of Blues offer national acts that range from Sammy
Hagar and The Police to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and American Idol
As in the early days of jazz, the music never stops in New
Orleans. And you don’t have to linger on Bourbon Street to
New Orleans Club Listings
Maple Leaf Bar
Rock ‘n’ Bowl
WHERE TO STAY
New Orleans’ jazz-themed hotel, the Renaissance Pere
Marquette , located in the heart of downtown, is embarking
on a $5 million renovation. The upgrades will happen in two phases
with phase 1 being completed by the end of September. During this
phase, the hotel will introduce a new restaurant concept and
culinary experience with a soon-to-be-named celebrity chef;
relocate and renovate the front desk and concierge area; and
upgrade elevators as well as the foyer.
Phase two of the renovations will include a new jazz-themed bar,
a “great room” with books, magazines and wireless and updates to
the property’s 6,500 square feet of meeting space. A Starbucks will
also be added during phase two, which is scheduled to be completed
by the end of the year.
“The hotel’s distinctive jazz theme, unique design and
excellence in service have been its signatures since opening,” said
Frank Zumbo, general manager. “This new, multi-million-dollar
renovation will only help us enhance our guests’ experience and
solidify our positioning as a major player in New Orleans’
competitive hotel market.”
Currently the hotel, which was originally built in 1925, offers
272 rooms with modern furnishings like Hermon Miller Aeron chairs
and a whimsical decor. it is located one block from Bourbon Street,
on the edge of the French Quarter.