New Orleans is where it all started, and it’s still the best place in the world to find authentic, red-hot jazz. We showcase three of the greatest venues from the dazzling array on offer. By Paul Oswell
Jazz first took root in New Orleans in the late 19th century, as a fusion of European and African music styles. The genre’s peak came with the ascendance of homegrown legend Louis Armstrong in the 1930s and ’40s (New Orleans’ international airport is named after Armstrong).
The city enthusiastically holds onto its traditions, and even now, jazz can be heard across the city in a variety of venues, most of them iconic buildings that have been music venues for decades.
The historic French Quarter is the epicenter for visitors to New Orleans, and it is home to two famous venues for jazz. The first is Preservation Hall (726 St Peter Street), established in 1961 to do just that — preserve and exhibit New Orleans jazz. It’s a low-key, basic venue with wooden benches, but visitors line round the block to see one of the three evening shows (at 8, 9 and 10pm). It’s not possible to book in advance, but a good tactic is to buy a cocktail and line up around 30 minutes before each performance. The house band is world famous and they attract a litany of world-class musical guests.
Also in the French Quarter is Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub, which bills itself as the oldest continuously operating jazz club in the city. The building dates back to 1831, and visitors can walk up any night of the week, pay a small cover and enjoy some lively traditional New Orleans jazz. It’s one of the few bars really worth visiting on Bourbon Street.
Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny (adjacent to the French Quarter) is also home to a number of historic clubs. Perhaps the most famous is the Spotted Cat Music Club, which has a trio of shows each night, featuring local and visiting jazz bands. The bar doesn’t charge a cover, although there’s a one-drink minimum. It’s a favourite spot for the New Orleans swing dance community and you’ll likely see a fine display of footwork as well as some of the best traditional jazz in town.