Welcome to Crescent City, birthplace of jazz! "Crescent City"? Yes, the nickname for New Orleans is Crescent City, due to its downtown location along a particularly deep bend of the Mississippi River. No matter what this unique American city is called, New Orleans has something for everyone.
To understand why this southern city is so different from any other city of the United States, and perhaps also how it evolved the musical form of Dixieland jazz, it is necessary to give a brief description of its history. Founded in 1718 by French developers, New Orleans grew rather slowly. Although ideal for shipping (New Orleans is only 180 kilometers from the mouth of the Mississippi, the world's fourth-longest river), the land around New Orleans is extremely low-lying (the city is actually below sea level!) and was at that time nothing more than a swamp. Despite this, the city attracted a wide range of peoples, including Canadian and European French, slaves, American Indians, and a few white British settlers. The area's continued slow growth, however, convinced France that it should sell all of its extensive land holdings in North America to Spain in 1763. Spain ruled this large area including New Orleans until 1800, when the whole area was again returned to France, only to be sold to the United States in 1803. The early French and Spanish cultures have remained with the city, even with the approach of 200 years of American rule.
The fortunes of New Orleans have always depended on its riparian location. The city gained importance in the War of 1812 and later as the terminus for shipping along the Mississippi through the Civil War. As shipping declined in importance due to the building of the railroads near the end of the 19th century, however, the Golden Age of New Orleans wound down. At this time, however, an artistic creation particular to New Orleans would resuscitate the city's fortunes.
Music has always played an important part in the daily lives of most Americans, and New Orleans happened to be home to some of the best musicians in the country. From 1880 to World War I, New Orleans with its cafe and night club society became host to a new form of music based mostly on the blues, but also on marches and ragtime music. In this style of music, the trumpet, clarinet, and trombone form the basis of instrumentation. As the trumpet is the loudest, it normally carries the melody, with the clarinet and trombone improvising above and below the trumpet, respectively. Sidney Bechet, Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, and most famously Louis Armstrong became symbols of the new music, playing to packed houses at first in the New Orleans red light district, and later to fans in music halls all around the world.
Though Dixieland jazz is today a preserved form of music like classical music, it later spawned Big Band music popular until the end of World War II, and urban jazz, still popular in the United States as well as in other countries. To hear the original Dixieland jazz one has only to book a hotel room in the Vieux Carre district of New Orleans anytime of the year. The French and Spanish architecture and laid-back lifestyle there is the perfect place to enjoy the upbeat but relaxing sounds of Dixieland jazz. Devotees of jazz pack Preservation Hall, Dixieland Hall, and the night clubs along Bourbon Street to hear their favorite songs. The New Orleans Jazz Club stages many jazz events, as does the city government, such as the International Jazz and Heritage Festival. If you can visit New Orleans only once in your life, though, save it for the world-famous Mardi Gras. You can then enjoy the best of New Orleans's night life with as many as one million other party revelers!
The city of New Orleans has so much to offer. Its history, unique cultural blend including world-acclaimed cuisines, and, of course, its musical gift to the world, Dixieland jazz, are reasons enough to place New Orleans high on everyone's "must list" of places to visit. Whether you want to travel to relax or join in spirited partying, New Orleans offers the tourist the best of both worlds.