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New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is jazz. Perhaps most associated with the 1920s, jazz is the music of change. Built on the syncopated rhythms of ragtime, jazz is modern and less formal. It has an electric feel that moved a nation still recovering from World War I, but jazz has older quite culturally diverse roots. Visitors to New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park will find themselves immersed in the people, places, and stories of jazz, and, of course, the music.
Jazz has many roots but is most often associated with New Orleans, because the city was the largest in the South and it produced a number of outstanding musicians. Improvisation and a certain freedom characterize jazz and help to distinguish it from other musical styles. Jazz evolved from a tradition of brass bands, incorporating Spanish, West African, and Caribbean musical traditions as well as some uniquely American traditions like the blues and African American spirituals that emanated from southern culture. Surprising in a segregated society, jazz music was popular with musicians and audiences of a variety of racial backgrounds.
As a city, New Orleans grew from a 1718 French settlement. With a strong Catholic tradition and many links to nations outside the United States, New Orleans was unlike most of the South between the 1700s and the Civil War. New Orleans was under the jurisdiction of first the French, then the Spanish, then returned to French control in 1801, before the United States bought it as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The beginnings of jazz emanated from cultural interactions in neighborhoods around the city. In informal street jams and clubs, among a vibrant immigrant community of French, Spanish, Germans, Italians, Haitians, Africans, and Asians, music was the king of social life. Building off the rhythms and melodies of African traditions and mixed with other influences, the music of New Orleans jazz came to sweep the nation as a popular American art form.
New Orleans offers an exciting mix of arts and cultures. Visitors to New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park can discover the city through this unique site dedicated to celebrating a truly American art form. Two visitor centers, one at 916 North Peters Street and the other at the former US Mint, now the Louisiana State Museum, at 400 Esplanade Avenue, provide information on the city. The visitor center at North Peters Street offers programs on jazz and musical performances.
Canal Street, named for an unrealized canal, was the site of many recording studios for jazz. A commercial center during the 19th century, Canal Street long formed the boundary between the French and Creole areas of the city and American sectors. Today, all along Canal Street, visitors on a walking tour can see these cultural vestiges and historic jazz sites.
The Central Business District Back O’ Town neighborhood was once the hub of African American commercial and social life. Here Blacks, Jews, Italians, and Chinese performed and listened to music, particularly jazz. On South Rampart Street, close to Turner’s Hall, is the Eagle Saloon Building. Located in a popular shopping district for the city’s African American population, the saloon was one of many jazz venues in Back O’ Town. The Iroquois Theater, also on Rampart Street, was another popular place to hear early jazz.