When it comes to jazz, New Orleans is hallowed ground. As the genre's widely accepted birthplace over a century ago, the city carries a legacy intrinsically tied to jazz's emergence out of its African American roots. See, slave dances, Mardi Indian chants, brass band parades, Delta blues chord changes, and Creole rhythms all swirled together in old New Orleans to form jazz's sweet distinctive sound. And that sound has continued to intoxicate people for generations. Tina Turner said it best when she said, “Jazz music itself is an example of changing poison into medicine. African Americans created jazz, a great medicine for people’s hearts, out of the poisonous experience of slavery. Jazz developed from African culture, gospel music, and blues to lift up the spirits of oppressed people, and now it brings joy to people the world over.”
To this day, visitors making a jazz club crawl can traverse the neighborhoods getting a dose of history while experiencing the genre's continuing evolution across intimate local venues. There's no better place to soak up the enduring spirit of jazz than the very city where young musicians first infused blues chord progressions with improvised collective polyphony many years ago.
The Music Box Village
An outdoor village made of repurposed shipping containers houses this intimate jazz club hosting local talents on Thursday nights. The eclectic decor and by-donation policy make it a one-of-a-kind venue.
Located in an old Creole cottage, this tiny club packs in crowds with its late-night jazz sessions. Their dazzling Mardi Gras decorations and signature drink, the "Marte Gras" cocktail set the festive mood.
The exposed brick walls, leather banquettes, and dramatic lighting make visitors feel they've stumbled upon a hidden Parisian jazz bar hosting top local quartets and trios.
Mimi's in the Marigny
Mimi's offers tapas dining and dedication to both nurturing budding musicians as well as hosting New Orleans legends in their cozy, Moroccan-inspired space.
Noted for having the city's only glass stage viewable below ground, this subterranean gem in the Lower Decatur district hosts eclectic genres from Afrobeat jazz to swing.
DBA on Frenchmen Street
From the outside, it looks divey, but DBA packs in lively crowds late at night to discover talented student bands from nearby music schools jamming.
The Bombay Club
An award-winning cocktail menu accompanies Mumbai-inspired dishes, Art Deco decor, and nightly live jazz piano in the intimate, darkly lit lounge.
Though not technically underground, the unassuming entrance of this historic music hall hides one of New Orleans' most iconic venues dedicated to traditional jazz.
Inside the historic Columns Hotel, Davenport offers an extensive whiskey list and classic pure jazz piano in a setting reminiscent of the 1920s era.
Parleaux Beer Lab
By day it's a friendly neighborhood brewery but on select nights Parleaux clears space for pop-up jazz shows by the Nola Jazz Kids youth talent pipeline.
Where Jazz Still Swings
As night falls in the Big Easy, venues across town tune-up to continue the legacy born in their backyard over a century ago. Whether it's bourbon and beignets while witnessing fresh talent carrying the torch of improvisation, or cozying into a hole-in-the-wall listening to veterans spin jazz standards, it's clear the soul of the genre permeates New Orleans as strongly as ever.
For true devotees making the journey to the genre's home, a pilgrimage spent club-hopping from Frenchmen to Faubourg Marigny offers a chance to connect with history before jazz notes drifted north and west. Over a century since pioneering the swing, the music continues scatting to the very heartbeat of Black culture and society!