A brief history of New Orleans jazz

Growing up in Boston, life is always a rush.  You rush when you walk so you can get out of the cold, you rush when you leave work or school so you can beat the traffic, and you rush to get more done because your Puritan ancestors would be spinning in their graves if they thought you were slacking off.  To be sure, there are some good things to come from this.  The culture of the northeast taught me to have a strong work ethic and encouraged me to be ambitious, to reach beyond the mediocrity it can be so easy to slip into.  But rushing has its costs, too.  You never look around, never make time for fun, and never really stop to think about how things are or how they got that way.

Living in New Orleans is… living in New Orleans.  The brutal summer heat forces you to move slowly and walk in the shade.  The potholes and bumpy sidewalks prevent you from zipping through a neighborhood without noticing your surroundings.  The food is so rich and flavorful it stops you in your tracks and demands to be savored.  Entire weeks of the year are set aside for parades, for drinking, for merriment.  Music and dancing accompany every event–and many events are dedicated to music and dancing entirely.  It’s a place with a deep sense of history, a place infused with a vibrant culture, and and a place whose people truly make it the weird and wonderful city that it is.

It’s also a place where I’m not in the majority: African Americans make up about sixty percent of the New Orleans population, while people more or less like me fill out the remainder.  This is decidedly different from the town where I grew up, and I feel I’d be doing the city a grave disservice if I didn’t acknowledge this fact and celebrate the many things African Americans have done to make New Orleans the place I’m proud to call home.

So in honor of Black History Month, I’d like to use one of my posts each week in February to highlight a different aspect of black culture in New Orleans.  Most of the time I’ll be linking to an article or video, but I’m also hoping to get out into the city and to use the series as an opportunity to learn more myself.  If you have any specific topics you’d like me to cover, feel free to make a request in the comments section below.

We begin with a history of jazz and a little Louis Armstrong.  Enjoy!


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