New Orleans: It’s Good for You


The announcement of the jazz museum and jazz performance space earlier today brought up something that continues to puzzle me. I understand New Orleans’ importance in the development of jazz and music in America, but I don’t understand making a musical form that has become the Black classical music that Rahsaan Roland Kirk thought it was, but like classical music it engenders more respect than love. It’s the officially respectable, mature music, but sales continue to show that it’s a commercially marginal form. Centering the marketing of a city on music that people associate with sitting studiously seems guaranteed to produce unspectacular results. Their associations might not line up with the reality of jazz in New Orleans, but you don’t know that when you’re buying plane tickets.

Jan Ramsey argued last year for a marketing plan based on the city’s festivals, which sounds saner and more inclusive toward the New Orleans music community. Festivals evoke fun; jazz evokes lots of paying attention. There’s a reason why Disneyworld doesn’t have much of an offseason.

  • When I lived in Kansas City, they revamped the blighted 19th street & Vine area as a jazz/history nexus with a nice theater that, from what I remember, no one played. The buildings surrounding it were dolled up with Disneyworld-esque facades, left over from the makeover Robert Altman did for his 1996 film on the city’s jazz scene, and with the exception of the excellent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum across the street and nearby Arthur Bryant’s BBQ place, no one really ever went there.

    The real telling sign of the will to make something overriding reality was that you had to pass by a giant bust of Charlie Parker in a traffic circle at the end of the block to get there, bypassing his well-known wishes to never return to Kansas City. The thing that separates New Orleans from most other culturally significant places in the US is that the culture that brings people to it is a living, evolving thing.

  • The more the city wants to put jazz in a museum and build marketing campaigns around it, the more room there is to operate (and starve of course) in the hollow shadows of their grand project. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about sales figures (obviously,) but you make a good point how silly it all if marketing is your goal. Personally, I feel we need all the space we can get free from the demands of the marketplace, but I wouldn’t look for that space in a museum but in the cracks in the side walk.

    I was particularly bemused to see that Terence Blanchard and Robin Burgess will bring in the talent. Remember when Terence was the creative director of the C.A.C.’s jazz program? All the “artists” be booked were clients of his wife’s booking agency. New Orleans’ always finds away to keep it funky, even when it tries to high-minded. And just to show that I can offer something besides criticism, I’d be happy to prepare a list of musicians within the jazz orbit who make music that would move the people profoundly, not keep them in a studious stupor. But then again they wouldn’t be on Terence’s list of city approved “respectable” jazz musicians, and I don’t exist in their little jazz world anyway.

  • CB

    No other city in the world has such a strong public association with jazz as New Orleans. Why not build a marketing campaign around it?The jazz museum has great potential as a tourist attraction, cultural archive and modern performance space. Festivals are fun but jazz is about sitting down and paying attention?? Come on Alex you know better. While that may be the uninformed public opinion it’s certainly not correct. Jazz was originally dance music and you can still dance to a lot of it. A broad definition of jazz is: music that features improvisation. The jazz museum may be an opportunity to entertain and educate the public about what jazz is really about. A narrowly defined, watered-down Disneyworld version of jazz would be a damn shame.