Memories of New Orleans

Food, clothing and shelter are generally listed as the three necessities of life. Close behind those three, in my view, is music. If I was forced to choose between being blind and deaf, I would choose blindness. That's how difficult it is to imagine living in a world without music. And in the history of American music, no city is more important than New Orleans. America gave the world perhaps its greatest musical gifts - jazz - and New Orleans is its birthplace.

Virtually all of the early greats in jazz came from the Crescent City - Buddy Bolden, Joe "King" Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton. Buddy Bolden was the first great jazz trumpet player in the late 1800s. Though he left no recordings behind, his influence is legendary. He was really the key figure in the history of jazz, the first great bandleader and songwriter. He inspired King Oliver, who in turn inspired and taught the great Louis Armstrong, all New Orleans natives. Along with men like Kid Ory, the legendary trombonist, and Jelly Roll Morton, these sons of New Orleans merged European instrumentation and classical harmonic structures with African rhythms to form the quintessential American art form.

New Orleans has remained the most vibrant of musical cities throughout the past century. The list of towering musical figures who were born in New Orleans - who indeed could not have born anywhere else - is as amazing as it is long.

Professor Longhair
Pete Fountain
The incredible Dr. John
Dr. Allen Toussaint
Buckwheat Zydeco
Bela Fleck
Fats Domino
James Booker
Clifton Chenier
The Neville Brothers
Boozoo Chavis
Sidney Bechet
Champion Jack Dupree
Tuts Washington
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

New Orleans is home to what is in my opinion the greatest musical event in the nation, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Like the music, the food of New Orleans is an incredible combination of influences - cajun, creole, African, Caribbean, French and more. Some of America's most distinctive foods come from New Orleans - jambalaya, gumbo, andouille sausage, boudin, po-boy and muffuletta sandwiches, crawfish etoufee. "New Orleans food," Mark Twain famously said, "is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."

There is so much more to say about this most unique of American cities. New Orleans was in many ways the perfect microcosm of what makes America such a great country, the blending and mixing of cultures and traditions. You can see this in every imaginable way, from the music to the food to the architecture to the language and the people themselves. Among American cities, only New Orleans could be home to Mardi Gras. Only New Orleans could have created Louis Armstrong. In a nation full of spiritless concrete jungles, New Orleans is, along with San Francisco, America's indispensible city. May it rise again.

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I was lucky enough to see this wonderful and colorful city as a teen during a Lutheran convention (back when I was still a Christian). It makes me wonder about all the people I met and wondering if they're alright. Here's hoping that it will raise again.

John Wilkins wrote:

Aren't the Marsalis brothers Noo Awleaners too?

Of course they are, and it's funny that I forgot to put them on the list. I had them no the list initially, then changed the format a bit and erased them. I am a huge Wynton Marsalis fan, having seen him nearly a dozen times in concert either with his own band or with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. What makes it even funnier that I left him off the list is that I was actually listening to his CD Blue Interlude while I wrote it. But yes, they are from New Orleans, along with their father Ellis and two other jazz musician brothers, Jason and Delfeayo.

There are certain cities that if they were lost to history, after the manner of Pompei when it was consumed by its mountain, the character of the country they nurture would be fundamentally altered. To San Francisco and New Orleans, I would most certainly add Boston, New York and Chicago, and though I hesitate to say it, kitschy L.A. These cities are alive and actively producing the messy pile of art, learning, industry, and morals which constitute the thin membrane of civilization. Other towns have historical significance in this regard, like Philadelphia, but are no longer essential. Great post, by the way.

Just to point out, New Orleans is too important from a commercial standpoint. It is a transshipment point between the Mississippi River and its tributaries (the Missouri R to the west and the Ohio and Tennessee Rs to the east) and the ocean-going ships to and from the Gulf. Also, there are rail connections at NO. None of that will be easily relocated. People might complain about it, but they are locked into history, for at least a while. The history is New Orleans.

What about Satchmo?

Unfortunately most of the great ones are going or gone. Fortunately their works have been preserved for posterity.

Sorry, I missed this

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Um, yes. Absolutely extraordinary.

TC Byrd wrote:

What about Satchmo?

He's discussed along with Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. The list was those who came after them.

Also, don't forget one of the truly incredible touring rock bands of the last decade, Cowboy Mouth.

They're such energetic and excellent showmen and woman, with a love for that great city of New Orleans that is their home.

I was there just over a month ago for vacation, and planned to go back this fall when the weather cooled.