Drunk with the beat of the music (and maybe helped along by a Hurricane cocktail) you can stagger from one jazz club to another, sit on the levee and listen to the buskers play a selection of the old tunes, take a boat down the Mississippi or just hang out in Jackson Square and be entertained by jazz, blues, and zydecko.
New Orleans: Jazz Capital of the World
If you love jazz, nowhere excites the blood more than New Orleans, the crescent city that saw the birth of the blues and that still pumps it out day and night, outdoors and indoors
Second Lining in Naw'lins
Following the Band in a Parade, i.e. forming the second line
The piercingly sweet trumpet is soloing on ‘Oh Didn’t he Ramble’ and I’m ‘second lining’* up North Rampart Street in New Orleans behind the growling trombones and wailing clarinets of the best jazz bands in town. Flat-bed trucks line the streets serving red beans and rice to the crowds that are pouring out of Louis Armstrong park where they’ve been waiting for the Parade to start since early morning. The smell is deep south, pungent and heavy.
Entrance to Armstrong Park
A joyous parade to celebrate Sunday!
“Honey, you be needin’ some yaller and green beads” and a beaming black woman leans out of her open-top car and drapes strings of purple, green and gold necklaces around me. I am underdressed. Electric blue suits, scarlet jackets, and leopard skin hats mark the sharpest dressers in the parade. That’s just the men. The women, in skin-tight pants and spangly tops of eye-watering colours wear acrylic wigs in a surreal clash of shocking pink, orange and silver. Someone throws me a scarlet feather boa and places a lurid green hat on my head. With the Dame Edna shades I’ve bought earlier, I’m blending in nicely.
A supermarket trolley runs alongside selling beer. Off to the side another trolley sells that Louisiana favourite, po’ boy sandwiches - crusty French bread filled with fried oysters, shrimp and soft shell crabs, (we’re talking BIG sandwiches here. N’awlins don’t do small).
Voodoo potions, crumbling tombs, zydecko and Jazz
It’s hot and I peel off from the parade to ride the world’s oldest operating trolley-car down picturesque St. Charles Avenue and to walk through the Magnolia hung narrow streets of the French Quarter, heart of the city for 300 years. History is in the peeling façades of the pastel-coloured houses, their filigreed balconies overhung with lush greenery; in the houses selling charms and potions to the 15% of the population that still practices Voodoo; and in the cemeteries full of crumbling, marble tombs, where the dead used to float back up from the swamp and ghosts are said to walk at night.
The green oasis of Jackson Square bustles like a medieval market with jugglers, tarot card readers, voodoo priests, and hawkers of hats and feather boas, sound-tracked by groups of wild looking Cajun and Zydeco musicians, straight from central casting for the film Deliverance. I wander down Decatur, the street that runs parallel with the Mississippi, to the famous Café du Monde where I pop in for the obligatory coffee and beignets (warm doughnuts to die for, smothered in icing sugar – four is one portion!). A saxophonist in an bright orange jacket and a too small trilby sits outside playing a soft, seductive blues: a dude in shades and sharp threads is on top of the bus shelter jiving to ‘Alabama Jubilee’ and from the paddle boats making their way downstream on the wide and muddy Mississippi, comes foot-tapping Dixieland.
Spanish Moss Hung Bayou
Jackson Square and the City where No One Sleeps
Back in the square, the fiddle-led sounds of Cajun and the fast accordions of Zydecko remind me of yesterday’s trip to the nearby swamps. Boat riding through the bayous and playing ‘spot the alligator’ is one of the highlights of a trip to New Orleans. Sipping a mint julep on the verandah of an antebellum mansion like a character from Gone with the Wind while gazing across the levee to the Mississippi, is another.
And when night falls I’ll queue for a seat in Preservation Hall to listen to the legends of jazz who play there before making my way to Funky Butts on North Rampart, or the House of Blues on Decatur, or maybe I’ll work off the fried catfish and rice at Mulate’s on Julia Street by two-stepping to the fast rhythms of that Zydecko.
It's not called The Big Easy for nothing.
And I know it’s tacky, but I’ve got to do it just once: walk down Bourbon Street with Pat O’Brien’s famous cocktail, the Hurricane in a “glass-to-go” before the late night carousers get going. Rumour has it that if you ask for a second the barman asks you to sign a waiver!
The motto here is “Laissez les bon temps rouler” - Let the Good Times Roll and in this sub-tropical city it’s easy to put life on hold for a few days, to reject sight-seeing in favour of less taxing activities, and to live the 24-hour party life.
That’s why it’s called The Big Easy
Tips on What to do, Where to Go in New Orleans
Travelling outside the French Quarter after dark can be dangerous. Always use a cab no matter how short the journey.
Jazz Clubs: Try and catch a performance by the Jonathan Cleary Monster Gentleman Band whose leader, Jonathan, hails from the UK. Vaughan’s on Dauphine Street and Tipitanas on Decatur are two of the best.
Shopping: Head for Magazine Street, six miles of more than 150 shops, Riverwalk Marketplace which overlooks the Mississippi, and Louisiana Tax Free Shopping in World Trade Centre on Canal Street.
Wining and Dining: You’ll be spoiled for choice in New Orleans. Top is Antoine’s at 713 St. Louis’s Street, with the best cellar in the USA and run by the same family for 159 years. Brennan’s at 417 Royal Street is a breakfast tradition for locals.
Food to try: Shrimp remoulade & friend green tomatoes, river crabcakes, seafood gumbo, real turtle soup from the bayou.
Drinks to try: The Sazerac Bar in the Fairmont Hotel for the famous Sazerac Cocktail, a Hurricane at Pat O’Briens or a Cajun Bloody Mary.
Tours: Cemetery and Voodoo Tours, the Southern Comfort Cocktail Tour, Bayou Tours, Plantation Tours, all by GreyLine Tours on +504 569 1401).
For further information, contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2020 St. Charles Avenue, (504) 566-5011