Music of New Orleans



Street Jazz music can trace its roots back to Congo Square in New Orleans in 1835, when slaves would congregate there to play music and dance on Sundays. While more accurately described at that time as African music, the area and activity laid forth the groundwork for the art form to come. Jazz is often associated with the expression of freedom for this very reason, for the music was birthed from these festivities each week where slaves were permitted to express themselves despite oppression. By 1838 the local paper—the daily Picayune—ran a scathing article complaining about the emergence of brass bands in the city, which it stated could be found on every corner. In 1885 local authorities tried to outlaw such expression in the square, though the restriction was not long-lived.

By the 1890s a man by the name of Poree hired a band led by cornetist Buddy Bolden, whom jazz historians consider to be the first prominent jazz musician. The music was not called jazz at this time, consisting of marching band music with brass instruments and dancing. If anything, Bolden could be said to have been a blues player. The actual term "jazz" was first "jass", the etymology of which is still not entirely clear. It is believed that the connotation is sexual in nature, as many of the early performers played in the prostitution district known as Storyville in New Orleans. The instruments used were often acquired second-hand at pawn shops, where members of the military would often sell their marching band instruments.

During this period ragtime was becoming very popular in the United States, and New Orleans musicians began to incorporate the music with an uptempo beat. It should be said that the Creole people of New Orleans also contributed greatly to the evolution of the artform, though their own music became heavily influenced by the pioneering work of Bolden. New Orleans-born musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton all recalled the influence Bolden had on the direction of the music of New Orleans, and jazz itself.

The use of brass marching bands came long before jazz music through their use in the military, though in New Orleans many of the best-known musicians had their start in brass marching bands performing dirges as well as celebratory and upbeat tunes for New Orleans jazz funeral processions from the 1890s onward. The tradition drove onward with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Henry "Red" Allen and King Oliver. The presence of marching bands lives on today in The Big Easy, with musicians such as the Marsalis family doing some of their earliest work in such bands.

Much of New Orleans music today owes its debt to the early marching bands, even those marching bands which predate the birth of jazz music. In the late 1800s marching bands would often march through the streets of the city in second line parades. Some of the earliest bands originated from the Tremé neighborhood, and the city gave birth to such bands as the Excelsior, Onward and Olympia brass bands. The Onward and Olympia bands each have sustained incarnations that continue performing to this day. Modern examples of the brass band tradition can be heard in the playing of groups like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, or the Rebirth Brass Band led by trumpeter Kermit Ruffins.

The history of the marching band in New Orleans is a rich one, with the various bands performing at virtually every major social event the city has to offer. They perform at funerals, picnics, carnivals and parades. The relationship between jazz bands and brass bands is one of co-influence. Jazz bands of this era began to go beyond the confines of the 6/8 time signature the marching bands utilized. Instead, New Orleans jazz bands began incorporating a style known as "ragging"; this technique implemented the influence of ragtime 2/4 meter and eventually led to improvisation. In turn, the early jazz bands of New Orleans influenced the playing of the marching bands, who in turn began to improvise themselves more often. Again, yet another indication that jazz music is symbolic of freedom.

The term dixieland was first coined by Dan Emmett in his song Dixie's Land in 1859, in reference to the slave trader Jonathan Dixie. It was not a positive term for African-Americans, as its usage defined any area of the south where slaves had not yet received emancipation. Dixieland music can be defined in a number of ways, though its origin is to be found in New Orleans, present first in the music of King Oliver. It quickly spread north and became popularized along with the migragtion of southern blacks to areas like Chicago. Today the term is used in reference to the music, which provides a general description of any form of jazz that is derived from early New Orleans jazz.[8]

The term dixieland is generally not used very much by New Orleans-based musicians, for there is good evidence that the term was imposed on them. For instance, the first band to actually use the term in reference to the music in their name was the all-white Original Dixieland Band. Now generally this band is viewed favorably by black and white musicians alike for conveying the early sound of jazz in New Orleans, though that sentiment is not universal. This band played no small role in the coinage of the term dixieland in reference to jazz in New Orleans, though they were certainly not the innovators of the music. The only true barrier this band broke was being the first to record New Orleans music, which happened in New York City of all places in 1917. It should be noted that despite the criticism Paul Barnes made about them, he also said that they had a "first class band".[7]


New Orleans has a quite important metal scene which began in the early 1980s.[9] Bands such as Eyehategod,[10] Down,[11] Exhorder,[12] Crowbar,[13] Soilent Green,[14] Goatwhore,[15] Kingdom of Sorrow[16] and Superjoint Ritual[17] are based or a good part of their members hail from the city. Artists such as Mike Williams, Jimmy Bower, Brian Patton,[10] Phil Anselmo, Kirk Windstein, Pepper Keenan[11] and Kyle Thomas are New Orleans residents.[18]

The city is known for the "Louisiana sound", which was pioneered by Exhorder in the late 1980s.[12] It's often recognized as the place where sludge metal was born;[19] most metal bands from the city share this sound which draws inspiration from Black Sabbath, hardcore punk as well as Southern rock.[10][11][13][14] Every band has a different style, though. Eyehategod shows Black Flag has influenced them a lot and they feature very harsh vocals;[10] Down has a style closer to classic rock;[11] Crowbar's music has slow tempos mostly;[13] Soilent Green has a sound which is closer to deathgrind.[14] However, Exhorder, the first band to combine doom metal and up-tempo music there, wasn't a sludge metal band; it was one of the founding acts of groove metal.[12]

Curiously, it's quite usual for a member of one of these bands to be part of another band from New Orleans or Louisiana. Collaborations by members of a band on another are also kind of common. Jimmy Bower is one of the founding members of Eyehategod,[10] he is also a member of Down[11], he is a former member of Superjoint Ritual[17] and has worked several times with Crowbar.[13] Pepper Keenan, member of Corrosion of Conformity, is a member of Down[11] but also worked on Eyehategod's album Dopesick.[20] Kirk Windstein is founding member of Crowbar[13] and member of Kingdom of Sorrow[16] and Down. Phil Anselmo is member of Down,[11] former member of Superjoint Ritual as well as various metal acts based in New Orleans;[17] he also has a hardcore punk side project along with Mike Williams of Eyehategod[10] named Arson Anthem.[21] Brian Patton is a member of Eyehategod[10] and Soilent Green.[14] L. Ben Falgoust II is the singer of Goatwhore[15] and Soilent Green.[14]