As Contrapuntist mentioned in his previous post, we recently went on vacation to New Orleans. There were two big reasons that we decided to go. Number one was that we wanted to escape from the seemingly endless Chicago winter. Don’t get me wrong, we love living here, but sometimes it’s nice to see blue sky and green grass after months of grey clouds and black gushy snow. Number two was that we wanted to check out the legendary music scene. We were blown away by what we found. From the very first night that arrived, we were surrounded by music.
One important facet of the New Orleans musical scene is the incredible street musicians. On our first night, we encountered a brass band on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets. There was a group of about 6 to 8 young men playing some fantastic music. Their music echoed off of the buildings, and they drew a large crowd of at least 20 to 30 people. In the following days, we came across a guitarist playing Metallica tunes and a trumpeter outside of the world-famous Café Du Monde (where you must try their world-famous beignets and chicory coffee).
Another unique aspect of the music scene is the bands which accompany parades and impromptu parties. Our tour guide reminded us of the great New Orleans tradition of the bands that play during funeral marches. She had even suggested that we ask the hotel concierge to check the obituaries in order to find funerals with a brass band. Contrapuntist and I didn’t do that, but we did encounter a brass band marching through the French Quarter with a wedding party. First, several police cars cleared the street. Next came the band, followed by the bride and groom. At the end came a bunch of people dancing with umbrellas and handkerchiefs. It was like watching a movie in real life.
Several minutes later and a few blocks over, we heard another brass band playing on the street. We went to go see what was going on, and it turned out to be a birthday celebration in front of a restaurant. The band was playing next to a giant fake birthday cake. A jester danced on stilts, and a juggler came out of the cake. The party blocked off the street for at least 20 minutes. Cars were backed up down the street waiting to get through, but nobody seemed to mind. Only in the Big Easy, I guess. This could never happen in Chicago because drivers would have been blasting their horns and trying to run down the juggler.
In addition to all of the music on the street, there are many legendary jazz clubs. We only had time to go to one, so we chose to hear Leroy “Kid Chocolate” Brown and his band at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon Street. They played some nice standards, and Brown had a great sense of humor. He jokingly introduced himself first as Wynton Marsalis and later as Irvin Mayfield.
Bourbon Street itself has all kinds of music clubs ranging from rock, blues, and country (not to mention all the strip joints). One of the places had a jazz band dressed like pirates, but we passed that one up. Our tour guide had also suggested checking out Frenchman Street, partially because her band was playing in one of the clubs over there. We had hoped to hear Ellis Marsalis at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, but it was sold out. We also did not make it to the famous Tipitina’s which will be featured on the upcoming HBO television series Treme. Hopefully we’ll get there on our next trip.
You can even catch some jazz on the boats which tour the Mississippi River. We rode on the Steamboat Natchez, and there was a jazz pianist playing in the dining room. Towards the end of our trip, the tour guide on the steamboat played the calliope. It was interesting to hear one live, although it was so loud and so badly out of tune that I plugged my ears with my fingers. The Creole Queen, another boat which tours the Mississippi River, also offers jazz lunch and dinner cruises.
Contrapuntist and I were only able to stay in New Orleans for 3 1/2 days, but it was enough time for us to become completely enamored with the city. We’ve only been home for a little over a week, but already, we wish that we could go back and hear some more music. If any of you reading our blog haven’t already been convinced that it’s a wonderful place, let me tell you right now. You must go to the city. Check out the music, enjoy the food, and explore all the wonderful places to go. I bet you’ll fall in love just as much as we did.
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