New Orleans Jazz: The Music of Freedom

Two Mansfield (CT) Middle School students interviewed my UConn colleague Marvin McNeill and me for a brief video documentary they created about the origins of jazz. Their video is thoughtfully researched and includes some compelling, historical film footage and photos. They placed second in a regional film competition and went on to compete at the state level. Congratulations to Mathew Chandy and his partner, Porter! Here is their completed project:

As an add-on to the topic of jazz music’s origins, I will include some informal lecture notes (from “back in the day,” when I taught jazz history):

Why did jazz crystallize in New Orleans?

  • Location: near the mouth of the Mississippi. A Seaport.
    – a flourishing trade route for America, the Caribbean, and Europe.
    – center of commerce.
    – catered to travelers from around the world
    – PARTY ATMOSPHERE: therefore work for musicians! Continuous need for fresh material.
    – Musicians stretched, blended, and revised existing styles – ultimately becoming jazz.
    – STORYVILLE: a district in N.O., sectioned off for prostitution. Most brothels had a pianist or small band.
  • New Orleans was a center for music of all kinds.
    – 3 opera houses.
  • it had an established brass-band tradition.
    – brass-bands were present at every social activity: picnics, sports events, political speeches, dances…
    – this intensified during the American Civil War (1861-1865), when military bands/Union troops were stationed there.
  • availability of instruments.
    – after the war, Blacks were able to take advantage of the availability of both teachers and band instruments (which became the basis of jazz instrumentation in New Orleans).
    – in other areas, Blacks were limited to homemade instruments, such as cigar-box guitars.
  • the black Creole subculture’s presence in New Orleans.
    – descendants of mixed-blood of the the original French settlers.
    – during the 1700s, Creoles had a social status above “pure blacks”.
    – highly educated and cultured in the French European tradition.
    – maintained a tradition of music wholly European in manner. Classically trained.
    – Under the Louisiana segregation laws of the 1880s and 90s, they were consigned to the same low status category of “Negro”. They had to mix socially and culturally with “Negroes”.
    – their musical training influenced the laboring blacks around them.
  • Blues existed in New Orleans at a very early period.
    – there was a substantial migration of rural Blacks from the Mississippi Delta region around the turn of the century.
  • Mexican bands visited New Orleans.
    – musicians from these bands settled in New Orleans. Some became teachers. New Orleans trumpeters were influenced by the Mexican trumpet style.

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