Where, when and why a certain kind of music was born may be very hard to define, especially when talking about popular music. A particular kind of music may have existed for decades in specific communities before the general public became aware of it.
That’s the case of jazz. By the time the general public became aware of it, jazz had been played in African American communities throughout the South, nobody knows for how long.
Today, it is generally accepted that jazz arose in and around New Orleans at the turn of the XX century. At that time, the city offered a unique combination of different cultural elements and influences that made it one of the foremost environments in which musicians created jazz.
A port city with doors to the spicy sounds of Caribbean and Mexico, very tolerant of the slave culture and home to a well-established black population, New Orleans was also still very strongly linked to her French and Spanish origins.
In this cultural and musical melting pot, jazz began to emerge as part of a broader musical revolution encompassing ragtime, blues, spirituals and marching bands among other experiences.
Much of this revolution happened in Storyville, New Orleans red-light district.
Storyville was established in 1897 by Sidney Story, a city official who supported an ordinance that confined the red-light district to a 38-block area. It was closed down by order of the Secretary of the Navy in 1917. This area was the only one in which white and a few black prostitutes could legally play their trade.
Like tenderloins and vice districts in many other cities, Storyville was controlled by collusion between politicians, entrepreneurs and the underworld. It brimmed with entertainment spots, like restaurants, bars, saloons, gambling houses and of course brothers – and all those places needed music. Here, many African American musicians (who were barred access to more respectable establishments) found a job.
Dealing with a kind of audience who hardly care for the music they plaid, these musicians had almost unlimited freedom to experiment and to work out stylistic qualities of their own, in a very free, unconventional way.
But there was another element that made New Orleans pretty unique in the creation of jazz: his Creole population.
The Creoles were free, French and Spanish speaking blacks originally from the West Indies. Because they were descendent from the first Europeans, they had a European education and could rose to the highest levels of New Orleans society, both economic and political. Most of them lived in the French Quarter of the city, east of Canal Street. The Creoles loved music, and many were conservatory educated.
In sharp contrast to them were the people of the American part of the city, who lived west of Canal Street. They were mostly newly freed slaves, uneducated and lacking any economic and cultural advantage, but experienced in gospel and work songs and very skilful in learning music by ear and improvising.
In 1894 a segregation law forced Creoles to move on the other side of Canal Street and live in an environment very different from the one they came from. This certainly proved to be an ordeal for all parties involved, but finally, a kind of balance was achieved. As the Creoles merged into the cultural fabric of that part of the city, they brought to it their history, culture and education. They were likely the actual cultural enactors of that mix of African American and European musical culture that would later allow the birth of jazz.
Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989
YouTube – A visit to Storyville, New Orleans’ most famous red light district
National Park Cervice – A New Orleans Jazz History 1895-1927
About Entertainment – What is early jazz
Jazz – Chapter 4 (outline)
UCLA Universtity – Blue Horizon: Creaole culture and early New Orleans jazz
History – New Orleans
I’m glad N is New Orleans, would be very upset if it was something else
Di you really think I could talk about jazz and not about New Orleans? 😉
Isn’t old documentary footage great? Loved seeing the enormous verandahs (so high) on that last hotel.
I love old photos and old videos. I’m so lucky I’m researching an era where these things already existed 🙂
NOLA is one of my favorite places on the planet. Despite the adversity and the reputation for being a rough place, the talent of the musicians draws me there. From the darkest clubs on Frenchman to the musicians that play on street corners, I could wander around for days taking it all in.
It must be a very peculiar, characteristic place. I hope one day I’ll be able to visit 🙂
Thanks for stopping by.
I did not know this about the Creole people! And wouldn’t you just love to live in a place called Storyville? Sounds like a great name for a town of writers 🙂
Yeah… though historical Storyville wasn’t about writers at all 😉
I’m another lover of NOLA! What a great video!!! Thanks so much for that.
Meet My Imaginary Friends
I love old clips of streets and cities. It’s like being trasported there through time.
Gail M Baugniet
Luv the fashionable hats of the 20s. One of my fondest memories of visiting New Orleans over the years is having the pleasure of hearing the Preservation Hall band play from the heart.
Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
Theme: The Fun in Writing #217
Did you see any marching bands? I think that must be a wonderful experience 🙂
Gail M Baugniet
Only the one time I was there for Mardi Gras. Lots of marching bands and all kinds of crazy stuff. Once in a lifetime . . .
I’ve been to New Orleans twice and there’s really no other place in the United States like it. The culture, the food, the sounds are are truly unique
I’ve never been there. But I friend of mine went for a day during her tour of Southern US. She said it’s a very peculiar, interesting city.
I hope one day I’ll be able to visit too 🙂
New Orleans is by far my favorite city in the USA. I have been there twice (once for storytelling and once for a conference), but I would like to visit again, and spend more time… 🙂
The Multicolored Diary
There must be a lot of folktales and folklore in that city, I bet 🙂
I have never visited New Orleans, although it is on my bucket list. I love the connection to French ancestry (of course).
I knew of creole cooking, but I had no knowledge of the history of the people. As always, I learn something knew when I visit your blog. Your research is impeccable!
I find the history of the Creoles so fascinating. As always, people is the best part of history 🙂
I love New Orleans and I’m going back to visit for the second time in just a couple months! I need to keep some of this history in mind and check it out…if I can drag myself out of the French Quarter!
I love going visiting cities and know the history of the places. It makes visiting so much meaningful and it gives such fantastic memories afterward.
Awesome post. You explain it so well. Thanks for sharing.
And thanks so much for stopping by 🙂
I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans. There is so much history in that area.
It does look like a very intersting place to visit. Maybe one day I’ll have the possibility to 🙂
Ah, so that’s why the James Spader movie is called Storyville – because it’s all about the red light (I keep meaning to watch it, but have never got round to it :)). New Orleans sounds like a huge mixing pot, no wonder it produced interesting things.
Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
Hey, now I want to see that film too 🙂