From jazz to funk, New Orleans music strikes a chord with residents

Haley Soares, Arcade Editor

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New Orleans musical culture

Hanson Dai | Art Director

From brass bands to jazz funerals, music and musical culture in New Orleans are a critical part of what makes this city so unique and is a key part of what makes the Tulane experience so exceptional. 

New Orleans was, of course, founded by French colonizers before they sold their territories to the United States in 1803. Its history as a French colony allowed for a unique formation of a subculture within the United States. 

Music has been an integral part of life in this city long before it was acquired by the United States. The slaves in New Orleans would gather in Congo Square on Sundays to dance and create music together, founding traditions that grounded in music early in the history of this city.  

Jazz is the sound we often associate with this city, and for good reason. The genre has its roots in late-19th century traditional brass bands. 

Professor Matt Sakakeeny, an ethnomusicologist at Tulane, has been studying brass bands for much of his career. In discussion about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he notes, “brass bands symbolized everything [about] New Orleans that was under threat of disappearing, and […] I became aware that this music that is about joy and about pleasure, which is really New Orleans’ gift to the world.”

In the early 20th century, jazz matured and gained popularity. Artists like Louis Armstrong and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, among others, created a name for the music genre and spread the music nationally. People were fascinated by the music, having never heard anything quite like it before.

The influence of New Orleans on popular music throughout history is far too great to ignore, going beyond jazz and influencing many musical movements from funk to hip hop. The city houses many subgenres of music, and any music fanatic can find their scene here — whether it be jazz on Frenchman Street or punk shows at Gasa Gasa. 

New Orleans is a gold mine for music and offers such rich musical history, making the opportunity to live, study or teach here truly remarkable. Professor Sakakeeny reflects on this opportunity, saying that tourists come here “in the hopes that they’ll be able to go to a second line on Sunday afternoon and I can wake up […] and get on my bike and go experience the greatest free concert you could ever hope to attend.”

New Orleans is overflowing with such important musical culture that you cannot find anywhere else in the world, and it would be a shame to not immerse oneself in and take advantage of it as much as possible.