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The Birthplace of Jazz

Music Venues | Birthplace of Jazz | Music Festivals | Pete Fountain Interview


The Birthplace of Jazz

Jazz...the sound that put New Orleans on the map, musically speaking! It's a distinctive sound--not big-band swing, with horns creating harmony. Nor is it modern jazz or "bebop," the post-World War II style that relies on speeding tempos and virtuoso soloing. And it's not "pop" music, the form of music from the pre-rock 'n roll days.

New Orleans jazz is a style of music. Almost any song can be "jazzed up" with a New Orleans beat. Jazz was originally music for dancing, not listening, even though that is what modern jazz became in the 1950s and beyond. New Orleans jazz has a swinging, stomping, syncopated beat that makes you want to dance! It also has a simple melodic quality that, to some, sounds dated.

New Orleans jazz is also played by brass bands--the kind we hear in our Mardi Gras street parades. They rely on wind instruments and separate bass and snare drums, all of which can be carried on foot.

The Traditional Jazz Band

The front line:

  • Trumpet or cornet - carries the melody
  • Clarinet - harmonizes above the melody
  • Trombone - punctuates the melody from below

The rhythm section:

  • Drums - keeps a steady beat
  • Bass (upright or brass tuba/sousaphone) - holds the sound together
  • Guitar, piano, or banjo - provides chord structure and harmonic support

What sets jazz apart from the music that preceded it is the way the first jazz musicians improvised. The music became a vehicle of personal expression for both musicians and dancers.

In 1976, jazz historian Al Rose wrote a definition of New Orleans-style jazz, which was eventually adopted by the city government. It reads: "Jazz is two or more musical voices improvising collectively in two-four or four-four time on any known melody and 'syncopating.' "

Meanwhile, the Louisiana State Museum at the Old U.S. Mint gives us this definition: "New Orleans jazz is a performance art based on the musical elements of syncopation, improvisation, blues scale, call-and-response, rhythm, tone color, harmony and interpretation."


  • Live music listings on NewOrleansLateNight.com
  • Interview with Pete Fountain: Our beloved legendary clarinet player speaks on his life and his music
  • Information on Jazz Fest schedule and performers.
  • Tulane University's Archive of New Orleans Jazz: an internationally renowned resource for New Orleans jazz research
  • Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra: Check here for the calendar of events for this nonprofit organization, which contributes to the diverse musical and cultural fabric of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana by providing great classical music performances.
  • Not all great jazz is found in New Orleans, and not all great jazz festivals are held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds! Check out this site: The Hot Steamed Jazz Festival. It's nonprofit organization, with all proceeds benefiting Paul Newman's "The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp" for children with cancer and blood diseases. Go by and pass a good time.
  • Historical Recordings of Cajun Music with recommendations and mp3s!