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Jazz, Steamboats and Voodoo: My New Orleans Experience


Article cover, a statue of a trumpet player close up

Greetings from the Sunshine State of Florida and the shimmering shores of Miami Beach! ☀️


I'm spending my winter break in what could arguably be described as one of the best retreats during these cooler months. Here, "cold" takes on a whole new meaning, with temperatures playfully hovering between 20 and 25 °C — a true testament to its sunny namesake.


While basking in Florida's warmth, the opportunity to visit New Orleans — a mere 2 hours away by plane — was too enticing to pass up. Known as the cradle of jazz, my intrigue with this vibrant city had me plotting a visit even before my arrival in Florida.


This article is set to encapsulate my 2-day journey through New Orleans. Expect a melody of experiences, from the soulful echoes of jazz to the enchanting whispers of Voodoo magic, the grandeur of steamboats, and an unexpected local fascination with oysters.


Jazz remains the heart of this narrative, but the city revealed layers far beyond, each turn offering a new note in its rich, cultural symphony.


 

French Quarter


I arrived in the city early in the morning and, after checking into the hotel, went outside to start exploring. Accompanied by my brother, who had already visited New Orleans before, I had the benefit of a personal tour guide at my side.



The main area for exploring New Orleans is the French Quarter, a vibrant heart of the city known for its historic buildings, some dating back to the 18th century, and its bustling street life. This district is a melting pot of French, Spanish, Creole, and American cultures, making it a unique place where history is alive on every corner.


On the photos above, you can catch a glimpse of the morning atmosphere: empty streets where the most common scene is a delivery truck unloading supplies to a local bar or restaurant. No people, no music, just peace.


The city has two faces, distinct in the day and night.


 

Café du Monde


As we wandered, we found ourselves in front of Café du Monde, a spot heralded by many guides as a must-visit. Established in 1862, this iconic café is famed for its café au lait and beignets.


My first encounter with the city couldn't have been better.



It was still quite early, so we managed to snag a free table—a rarity as the day progresses, when the waiting line can stretch considerably. And for good reason.


While savoring a delightful cup of coffee and some pastries, we had the pleasure of enjoying live jazz music performed by a street band just next to the entrance. This moment perfectly encapsulated the essence of New Orleans: a city where music, history, and culinary excellence converge to create unforgettable experiences. I've recorded a part of the performance and you can see it on the video below.





 


After Café du Monde, we continued to stroll down the street, aiming to reach the New Orleans Jazz Museum. It was a 10-minute sightseeing walk, enriched by a number of souvenir shops and a dominant statue of Joan of Arc, which piqued my curiosity about its placement. The reason for its presence is quite fascinating: the statue is a gift from France to New Orleans, symbolizing the French heritage and the city's historical ties to France. It stands as a beacon of the enduring friendship and cultural exchange between New Orleans and France.


Just before arriving at the museum, we passed by a street market offering a range of unique products. Among these, one item that particularly caught my eye was an alligator head, likely intended as a novel decoration for your room or work desk. Imagine having it on your night table to greet you on a daily basis—a quite intriguing souvenir to possess. Alligator meat is also a staple of New Orleans cuisine, which I admittedly did not have the desire to taste.




 

New Orleans Jazz Museum


The New Orleans Jazz Museum was the highlight of the day, sparking an eager anticipation as we stood at the birthplace of jazz, wondering what lay inside.


New Orleans Jazz museum entry sign

Housed in the historic Old U.S. Mint, a building with a storied past that dates back to 1835, the museum serves not only as a beacon for jazz enthusiasts but also as a testament to the city's rich historical and cultural fabric. This architectural marvel, once a pivotal minting facility producing both American and Confederate currency, has seamlessly transitioned into a sanctuary for jazz's illustrious history, embodying the spirit of innovation and resilience characteristic of New Orleans.





Upon entering, the ground floor greeted us with a gift shop and meticulously preserved displays of instruments and garments that once belonged to famous musicians, each piece echoing the rhythms of the past. Although this floor also houses a section dedicated to the mint and the development of the coin industry—a nod to the building's original purpose—my focus was drawn more toward the musical artifacts.


Ascending to the second floor, my excitement crescendoed as I discovered two riveting sections:


1. The Music and Artistry of Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino: This exhibit was a deep dive into the creative genius behind some of jazz's most iconic figures. It was a thrilling journey through the legacy of these musical pioneers, whose influence resonates in the jazz world to this day.

2. Drumsville Redux - The Evolution of the New Orleans Beat: Here, the rhythmic heart of New Orleans was laid bare, tracing the percussive innovations that have defined the city's sound. This exploration of rhythm and beat was an enlightening experience, showcasing how the city's unique pulse has influenced genres far beyond jazz.


The third floor, while offering less in terms of exhibits, houses a performing arts center where the vibrant spirit of jazz is kept alive through free live performances. This space, dedicated to the ongoing celebration of jazz, provided a perfect endnote to our visit, encapsulating the museum's role in preserving and perpetuating this quintessential American art form.





Reflecting on my visit, I couldn't help but rethink my grade 8 jazz unit. The depth of history and culture I encountered at the museum has inspired me to weave some of its content into my curriculum, enriching my students' understanding of jazz not just as a musical genre but as a pivotal cultural phenomenon. This experience has invigorated my teaching approach, promising to bring a slice of New Orleans' vibrant jazz heritage into the classroom.



 


As the sun dipped below the horizon, marking the end of the first day in New Orleans, I couldn't help but feel a profound connection to this city of rhythm and resilience. From the tranquil morning streets of the French Quarter to the soul-stirring exhibits of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, every moment was a note in the symphony that is New Orleans.


Don't forget to subscribe and stay tuned for Part 2, where the adventure continues, exploring even more of what this enchanting city has to offer.















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