Preservation Hall in New Orleans

Jazz Music in Louisiana

Jazz was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Discover its beginnings in Congo Square to its stance in popular culture today.

The Music: Jazz 

Jazz was born in New Orleans — Congo Square, to be precise. This public square was one of the only places in America where formerly enslaved people were allowed to gather and play drums. They did so on "free Sundays," where the sharing of African rhythms and dance kept their ancestral tradition alive — until, as it happened, it would become the very rhythm of American popular culture.

Jazz is the music that erupted when African (and Afro-Caribbean) and European traditions converged in America, and nowhere was that mix more potent than in New Orleans. By the start of the 19th century, the sounds of opera, brassy military parades, church music and street performances could all be heard in the city. And since music was part of every aspect of social life in New Orleans — including Carnival, debutante balls, vaudeville, Storyville parlors, and even funerals — the port city proved fertile ground for the evolution of this young art form.

The Jazz Icons

Naturally, many of the earliest names in jazz hailed from Louisiana, including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. One of jazz's most original performers, New Orleans' own Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, was as much an ambassador for the music as he was for his hometown. And many others have carried the torch both within Louisiana and around the world, including Kid Ory, Earl Palmer, Louis Prima, Al Hirt, Nellie Lutcher, Sidney Bechet, Pete Fountain, The Marsalis family (Branford, Ellis and Wynton), Harold Battiste and Edward “Kidd” Jordan.

The newest generation of jazz musicians continue to honor the tradition while bringing in their own unique sounds. Catch contemporary performers such as Trombone Shorty, Irvin Mayfield, Kermit Ruffins, Aurora Nealand, and brass bands like Dirty Dozen, Dukes of Dixieland and Rebirth Brass Band performing regularly throughout New Orleans. 

Discover more of Louisiana’s jazz musicians.

Preservation Hall in New Orleans

Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

Jazz Playhouse in New Orleans

The Jazz Playhouse in New Orleans.

Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. at Jazzfest.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

French Quarter Festival in New Orleans

French Quarter Festival in New Orleans.

Hear it Here:

There's no better place to hear jazz than in the city that first gave rise to it. And celebrate jazz in all its forms at one of the largest festivals in the state – the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, along with Satchmo Summerfest (named after Louis Armstrong, of course) and French Quarter Fest in New Orleans, Natchitoches Jazz & RnB Festival and Highland Jazz & Blues Festival in Shreveport.

Preservation Hall

New Orleans

Many regard Preservation Hall as the best spot in Louisiana (if not the world) to hear jazz music. Its origins date all the way back to the 1950s, and it was a rare space in the South where racially-integrated bands and audiences shared music together during the Jim Crow era. After forming the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which at one point played The Filmore West with the Grateful Dead and palace of the King of Thailand, Preservation Hall was put on the map to an international audience. It’s a no-frills venue in New Orleans’ French Quarter that has changed little over the decades, featuring the most authentic traditional jazz you’ll find anywhere. This intimate location hosts live jazz on over 360 nights a year featuring ensembles from dozens of local musical experts.

The Jazz Playhouse

New Orleans

You'll find the luxurious Jazz Playhouse at The Royal Sonesta in the heart of the French Quarter. Get the complete experience here and listen to live jazz, and enjoy tasty small plates and sip on a crafted cocktail. This venue, located on the widely-recognized Bourbon Street, offers a uniquely intimate ambiance in comparison to the zany bars that line the street.


New Orleans

Venture a little off the beaten path in New Orleans to find Bacchanal, a wine bar situated in the Bywater neighborhood. Its outdoor dining (and wining) area also features a stage where jazz musicians perform nightly. Get there early, as it’s very popular most evenings.

Frenchmen Street

New Orleans

New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street is packed with music venues, some of the most popular being Snug Harbor Jazz BistroThe Spotted Cat Music ClubThree Muses and The Maison. Get a detailed guide of the music found on Frenchmen Street.

Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall


The Dew Drop has deep history dating back to 1885. Some of the biggest names in early jazz would cross Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to play here, and the building has changed little in the years since. The venue is open only for special events, so check the Dew Drop’s concert calendar for the latest info.

Learn more about Louisiana’s close history with jazz music at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint featuring a series of rotating exhibits on themes relating to jazz history and culture. Jazz enthusiasts will appreciate the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, where you can participate in a drum circle, enjoy a jazz concert or inquire about musical events around town. At Vue Orleans, located at the tip-top of the Four Seasons Hotel, this cultural experience has a musical exhibit highlighting Louisiana’s contributions to jazz and R&B to funk and bounce. And over at JAMNOLA (which stands for Joy, Art & Music – New Orleans) play along with the interactive sound wall exhibit and wander through the Garden of Legends, featuring massive busts of artists like Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Big Freedia and Lil’ Wayne.