25 March 2012

Inside New Orleans’ Jazz Dens

A Jazz musician’s Mecca, New Orleans, or Nola as it’s lovingly nicknamed, is well worth the pilgrimage. Having produced a long list of Jazz and Blues “greats”, including household names like Louis Armstrong, Dr John, and the entire Marsalis family, it’s little wonder many an aspiring player sees this city as their spiritual home. After the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, Nola has finally managed to re-build and syncopated beats can once more be heard drifting through the doors of local clubs and bars across town. One word of warning though – if you’re after the real deal, do not join the tourists on Bourbon Street, but instead head off to the lesser-known local hangouts on Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny district. In these dilapidated music dens, you’ll hear the cream of the New Orleans crop play well into the early hours on any night of the week you choose. Take a listen to some of our favourite Nola inspired tracks below, from Sachmo to Etta – not technically New Orleans born but hey, any excuse will do.

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Snug Harbour

Intimate would be a generous way of describing the space here, but discomfort is part of the bargain if you want to hear local legends like Ellis Marsalis take to the piano. Delighting friends and die-hard fans alike, this is the kind of place you could imagine bumping into jazz royalty at the bar. Sit back; order yourself a Po Boy sandwich washed down with a whisky and soak up some of the best Jazz you’re ever likely to hear.

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Apple Barrel Bar

If it’s home-grown blues you’re after then Apple Barrel is the place go. Tiny and invariably completely packed, you may not find a seat but be to be honest you’re unlikely to care once the band begins to play. With a completely fluid line up of musicians that shifts to include every new player that drifts through the door clutching their instrument, you never know quite what to expect – apart from incredible music that is. For afters, head over the road to The Spotted Cat, where you’ll hear everything from traditional Jazz and Blues through to Latin and up-beat Funk.

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With a sister bar in New York, d.b.a isn’t the most traditional of Nola venues, but what it lacks in pedigree it more than makes up for in talent. The likes of Stevie Wonder have graced this stage and top players from far and wide flock to perform under this particular spotlight. Housed in a building dating back to the 1800s and clad in Cyprus wood, musicians proclaim this bar to have some of the warmest acoustics in the city.

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Preservation Hall and Candlelight Lounge

These last two venues are only for the most committed of music enthusiasts. At Preservation Hall expect very limited seating on very hard wooden benches, no air-conditioning and no refreshments served at all. But also expect to see some of the city’s very best Jazz – with musicians well into their eighties playing alongside fresh young talent, between old watermarked walls hung with faded photographs of big name stars. A trip to Candlelight Lounge should be made on a Wednesday evening, when local favourites the Treme Brass Band keep an animated crowd on their feet all night long. If you’re after an authentic slice of New Orleans night life, this is where you’ll find it.

Words by Katie Manning


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