New Orleans is the best city in the world to see jazz. You could say we’ve been playing it since the late 1800’s, when Buddy Bolden integrated the improvisational style into his Big Band performances, but really, we’ve been playing it since our inception. Jazz is a melting pot of genres and freedom of musical speech. It was born here because it has always been in our blood.
Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, The Dixieland Jazz Band, Sidney Bechet, Kermit Ruffins, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Terence Blanchard, Louis Prima, Harry Connick Jr, they’re all from here. Walking into a venue because you’re drawn in from the street and taking a chance on a newbie, or a musician who is new to you but already well loved here, is the way to go.
There are jazz joints all over the city, but if you’re looking for a concentration of them, Frenchmen Street has classically been, and still is, the place to go.
The current big five venues for jazz on Frenchmen Street are: Snug Harbor, Three Muses, Maison, Bamboula’s, and The Spotted Cat.
Snug Harbor is the swankiest of the jazz clubs on Frenchmen Street. A sit down venue, they serve high end Creole Cuisine. Ellis Marsalis held his residency there for decades before his passing, earlier this year. Snug is a good place to catch old school New Orleans staples like the Nevilles, the Marsalises, Quiana Lynell, James Singleton, Johnny Sansone, and Stanton Moore.
Three Muses has a focus on singer-songwriters as well as jazz, with performers like Debbie Davis, Teddy Lamson, Sarah Quintana, Esther Rose, Meschiya Lake, and Gal Holiday, so if you’re interested in lyric-led groups, this is the place for strong, smart voices.
Bamboula’s is a great place to go for daytime jazz. They start the music at noon everyday and, while they have sets until 1 a.m., often taking the energy all the way up into Zydeco, I’ve seen some of the best performances there on my lunch break.
With multiple stages, Maison has all sorts of jazz, swing, brass, soul and burlesque to see. They also host traditional jazz dinner shows every night of the week at 10 p.m.
The Spotted Cat is my personal favorite. They’re casual. They have great acts with lots of energy and they’ve done a beautiful thing in this time of distress. They’ve put out a request to “past, present, and future supporters of our venue” to raise funds to distribute amongst the musicians who would be playing there throughout the month. “The Spotted Cat Music Club had 442 professional musicians scheduled to perform during the month of April. That’s over 100 musicians a week that depended on playing in our humble little stage to meet their livelihoods!” They support the community and they are worthy of support!