From the Soul – Do you Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

Drop Me Off in New Orleans

‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans.’ That is how the song goes, made famous by one of the sons of the Big Easy, Mr Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, who travelled from New Orleans up the Mississippi to Chicago during the 1920’s to join King Oliver and his Band. But what a wonderful heritage that he left behind and how it has grown and developed since his departure for the north and ultimately international stardom.


Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong


New Orleans has been a major bedrock of American music with some of the greatest worldwide influences. The French Arcadian’s had travelled down from Canada and brought with them what would become Cajun music.  Mix this with the drumming rhythms of the African American Slaves.  Add a dash of Native American influence and 2 spoonful’s of European Classical Traditions and a pinch of Delta blues and what do you get?  New Orleans Jazz, a gumbo mixture of many different cultures and traditions which has and continues to influence the world with its broad and far reaching impact on western music.

The list of music names with roots in New Orleans is endless. From the aforementioned Satchmo, through the old classics of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Buddy Bolden and Sidney Bechet. Continuing with the likes of Fats Domino, Louis Prima, Professor Longhair, Dr John and Allen Toussaint, and onto names like Harry Connick Jnr, Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Wynton Marsalis, the list goes on and on. You can even include prominant bands from New Orleans including Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rebirth Brass Band, The Neville Brothers, The Meters and Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans Revue. There are of course many others, too numerous to mention.


The Preservation Hall Jazz Band


A Dear Old Southland

Where did it all start and when? Some say that jazz was born in the early 1900’s in New Orleans with a fusion of African and European roots. From Africa came the expression, the rhythm and the feel. From Europe, the harmony and the instruments such as trumpet, clarinet and saxophone. However, both cultures and traditions supplied the improvisation.


King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band


New Orleans was perfect for the development of this style of music being a port city with all different ethnic peoples meeting up. Musicians could learn how to play together and learn from each other’s differing method of music and blend them all together. Jazz had evolved from slave songs and spirituals and merged with other traditions to form what is now an internationally recognised genre of music.

When I Die, You Better Second Line

Though New Orleans is stereotypically known as the birthplace of Jazz, the city is also home to numerous other genres of music.  Leaving to one side it’s thriving Metal and Hip-Hop scenes, New Orleans is also home to various other forms of music, being the birthplace to some of the USA’s finest Funk groups.  New Orleans Brass Bands are also a strong tradition that predates Dixie Jazz in the city, being used in funeral processions from the 1890’s onwards. These ‘Second Line parades’ would often march through the streets of the crescent city and are still recognised today in modern examples, with notable groups such as Rebirth Brass Band and Hot 8 Brass Bands originating from said traditions.


Rebirth Brass Band


Another music term not generally used by New Orleans musicians but referring to early music generated in New Orleans is Dixieland.  The first band to use this term was the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) who had moved from New Orleans to New York and recorded the first jazz records in 1917. Louis Prima who came from the French quarter of New Orleans followed his idol Armstrong and moved north to follow a career in Dixieland music. Amongst others was his famous contribution to Disney’s Jungle Book with ‘I Wan’na be like you’ as well as the Benny Goodman Big Band Classic, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ which he wrote in 1936.

My Indian Red

Following the Second World War, a new music genre emerged from New Orleans. Musicians such as Fats Domino and Lloyd Price helped shape what was to become Rhythm and Blues, which gradually evolved and developed into Rock and Roll, the foundation of most Modern Western Pop music. This new New Orleans R&B Tradition helped spur the kinds of Professor Longhair, who in turn brought about the rise of two NOLA legends, Mac Rebenack AKA Dr John and the late, great Allen Toussaint.  Whereas Dr John pursued with the performing route, Allen Toussaint was instrumental with his record label in giving exposure to some of the greatest New Orleans talent in last the 50 years.


Dr John


Out of this development also came the Funk sound of the Meters who, drawing from the New Orleans R&B and second line parades, engineered a completely original brand of funk. With such great songs, such as ‘Hey Pocky Way’ and ‘Cissy Strut’, the Meters influenced American pop music for generations, especially the formation of early hip hop. This continued after their breakup in the form of the world-famous Neville brothers. They created a sound that perfectly encapsulates New Orleans rich musical legacy. Current New Orleans acts such as Trombone Shorty, Galactic and Jon Cleary pay homage to the musical foundation laid by Meters and the Neville Brothers.

Today New Orleans continues to reflect its amazing contribution to the world of music. The annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival takes place every spring and represents the best in Jazz, Blues, Rock, Gospel, Hip Hop, Cajun, Zydeco and so many others. The talent of New Orleans still continues to showcase itself, including that of Jon Batiste, Trombone Shorty and of course Wynton Marsalis, helping to maintain it’s position as a main player in the international world of music.  This is a city that has fuelled so much creativity and passion for music and so, though I have not yet managed my pilgrimage to this Holy City of Music, I do indeed know what it is like to Miss New Orleans.


Jon Batiste