New Orleans and its reputation for being home to a multitude of brothels and other forms of vice in the city was not known to me before taking this course. What I have always associated New Orleans with was their rich history of jazz as well as being home to Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Even amongst the readings and learning about the past of New Orleans, jazz music still played a vital role in shaping the culture of what New Orleans is and widely known for today.
New Orleans has always been home to an array of cultures beginning with the early years of colonization from the French and Spanish much of NoLa still maintains their French and Spanish roots to this day. With that said, NoLa was a distinct spot for travelers to end their journey which caused the state to be portrayed as an exotic destination much like the Caribbean. In fact, before New Orleans was bought from the United States, their previous conquerors brought over their own unique cultures and accustoms dominating the way of life in the city specifically its music scene. According to Samuel Charters book A Trumpet Around the Corner, people of New Orleans gave themselves to the pleasure of dance, theater, and music with a fervor that startled its visitors (Charters 17). This is a perfect example of how the way of life in NoLa has always been rooted in music and dance.
Charters continues to explain about the influx of immigrants that also created more changes to the growing city. For instance, with the rush of immigration from the Irish, Germans, and Italians came new styles of music as well as new instruments, and by the nineteenth century, New Orleans had become a huge city with a variety of diverse ethnic and racial groups – French, African, Italian, Spanish, Irish, and German that all shared the same love for music.
Given the states background and history being rooted in music and dance, the culture of the city relied heavily on its music scene for a variety of reasons. Music could be heard throughout the city at places, such as the market, where street vendors would sing songs to showcase their items; this had become a custom in New Orleans and was not uncommon. In addition to street vendors, music could also be heard late at night, near the water, and virtually anywhere you stepped foot around the city. New Orleans was slowly becoming a city where a variety of cultures came together, but each one carried a melody and a struggle. As a result of this blending of cultures, jazz eventually became the byproduct of its atypical cultural environment. With the remains of Spanish and French roots, African influences, and the flow of immigrants from Europe came a huge blend of cultures. Naturally, with the ways these cultures collided and evolved together in NoLa produced the United States most unique musical style. Although music has always been around the city, it wasnt until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that it began to take off.
As stated before, to understand how music played a key role in the evolution of New Orleans, you must look at its history before jazz came about. With its commitment to music and dance, it has always been a part of the social aspect of the city. There were formal balls and dances that constantly took place, influential sounds from Latin America, and even marching bands for funerals that consumed the city. Each category of music catered to a specific aspect found in New Orleans everyday life. Although, when it comes to jazz shaping culture in New Orleans, it first stemmed out of the experiences of segregation Africans endured throughout the century. Although slavery had been abolished, people of different races melded together much more freely in NoLa than any other place in America at the time. A perfect example comes from Gary Krists book Empire of Sin where this merging of cultures was embraced writing, New Orleans had had a long tradition of interracial fraternity extending back into its French and Spanish days. Relatively liberal manumission laws had given the pre-American city a large and often prosperous community of free people of color (Krist 82). Krists quote portrays the way of life New Orleans maintained which gave the city its mass appeal until city officials soon made that come to an end.
As a result of this segregation beginning to take effect, it started to target the music style stemming from Buddy Bolden and other up-and-coming jazz musicians. Their new musical style was challenging the vigor of Jim Crow laws by bringing all colors (predominantly whites and blacks) together rather than discriminating. Ultimately, jazz was also the byproduct of the emotions and struggles Africans had faced, hence, why it was deemed a threat to the new social order.
In other words, because of this new way of life New Orleans was transitioning into, it definitely changed the surrounding culture that made up the city. Jazz was becoming popular, therefore creating a new outlet that was geared for those who followed a feeling or emotion in their music. With the increase of popularity in jazz, it still allowed all people, no matter their skin color, to come together. Due to its resilient culture of music, people of New Orleans also became resilient too. Thus, the music became a way to shift the city into what it now prides itself on being. With a vast multicultural background and a music culture already dominant, it is difficult to say that music did not shape the city. Even amongst the negative aspects that overtake New Orleans, its music is always the outlet that helps rebuild the city thus adding on to a new cultural aspect being reconstructed. The city of New Orleans was formed by the traditions and history of free people of color, Africans, Irish, Spaniards, French, and more and will always remain a cultural city with a musical culture all their own.