Photo courtesy of Preservation Hall on Facebook
Around the turn of the 20th century, several cultural influences converged in New Orleans to create jazz. At Congo Square, free people of color and enslaved African-Americans performed bamboulas, calindas and more. Throughout the city, Spanish and French people marched in parades with brass instruments. Intermingling Caribbean influences brought a Latin tinge to the whole melee. Honed to perfection in Storyville brothels, the uniquely New Orleanian music became known as jazz when a 1916 Times-Picayune article referenced “jas bands.”
The spelling has changed, but you can still hear traditional live jazz — as well as its more experimental offshoots — at venues throughout the Vieux Carré. Here are a few to check out.
Bombay Club (830 Conti St.)
When former owner Richard Fiske took the wheel at Bombay Club in the early 2000s, jazz was scarce in the Quarter (except for Preservation Hall). Fiske aimed to make Bombay Club a live jazz destination on par with nightclubs of the 1940s. He succeeded at his task, and although he has since passed on, his legacy continues in the nightly lineup of jazz luminaries. There’s no better place to savor music alongside new Louisiana cuisine and cocktails, all in a comfortably luxurious atmosphere.
Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St.)
There’s no food or drink for sale or public restrooms at this no-frills, all-ages venue (you can bring your own drinks). What you will find, though, is a bastion of traditional New Orleans jazz that has branched out in recent years to embrace performances by artists ranging from Mos Def to Foo Fighters. Grab a go-cup and get ready to sweat it out — a concert at Pres Hall is truly a New Orleans bucket-list item.
Fritzel’s European Jazz Club (733 Bourbon Street)
Fritzel’s is a great spot for live jazz, and it regularly dishes out plenty of old-school Dixieland. It’s calm and laid back in almost inverse proportion to much of the rest of Bourbon Street — a perfect stop if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the crowds, or if you just want to listen to some good music.
The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St.)
It’s raucous, it’s loud, it’s standing room only, and it’s one of the best places to throw down in New Orleans. This casual, petite Frenchmen Street venue has no cover (but there is a drink minimum, and the bar is cash-only). Traditional jazz, modern jazz, blues and funk — you’ll find it all at the Spotted Cat. If things get too hot and crowded, just step outside with your drink for a breather — chances are, you’ll find a brass band playing on the street.
Three Muses (536 Frenchmen St.)
Grab a seat at the bar or a tall bistro table, order Chef Daniel Esses’ tapas and one of the on-point house cocktails, and settle in for an intimate night of music. Curated by musician and Frenchmen Street fixture Sophie Lee, the nightly lineup includes Shotgun Jazz Band, Gal Holiday, Tom McDermott, and many others.