You don’t even have to make an effort to hear great jazz when you visit New Orleans. It’s everywhere around you. There are pop-up bands on the streets throughout the French Quarter. And Jackson Square. And in front of Cafe du Monde. Or if you’re lucky (?), maybe you’ll see a jazz funeral procession marching down the street. Essentially, jazz is everywhere you go.
You can go to one of the jazz clubs on Frenchman’s Street. Or, listen to one of New Orlean’s iconic brass bands like we did at the Maple Leaf. That’s where we stood in a narrow little bar and listened to one of the best bands I’ve ever heard. It was actually my second time hearing them. I’d had the privilege of going to hear Rebirth in 2008. It was one of the highlights of my trip and I was eager to hear them again. I discovered they play at the Maple Leaf every Tuesday night, so that’s where we headed, with a hundred other people crammed into a tiny little space.
Jazz has become an institution in New Orleans. It’s something of a legend. Maybe you’ve even heard a little bit of its most sensational legend regarding jazz and the Axeman?
The Axeman was a serial killer who went on a killing spree from 1918-1919. On March 13, 1919, a letter purporting to be from the Axeman was published in newspapers saying that he would kill again at 15 minutes past midnight, but would spare the occupants of any place where a jazz band was playing. That night New Orleans’ dance halls were filled to capacity. People played jazz on their porches and in their living rooms. Music poured into the streets, and tradition was born. There were no murders that night.
The bands are still playing. You can’t walk through New Orleans without hearing jazz. But then, who’d want to?