All That Jazz 8-3-2007

In New Orleans, clients can follow in Satchmo’s footsteps

By: Cheré Coen

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Ellis Marsalis playing piano at Snug Harbor
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 musicians.

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.

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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.

French Quarter
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 others.

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

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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 Taylor Hicks.

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 experience it.


New Orleans Club Listings


Howlin’ Wolf

Maple Leaf Bar

Rock ‘n’ Bowl

Snug Harbor


Vaughn’s Lounge


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.