Where to Go to Experience Jazz History in New Orleans
Widely considered the birthplace of jazz and blues, New Orleans is known for its celebratory spirit and exceptional live music scene. Whether you want to hit the town at popular clubs or delve into the city’s musical history, time-honored jazz traditions are alive and well in the Big Easy.
New Orleans Jazz Museum
The world’s largest collection of jazz artifacts.
For an academic exploration of jazz history, stop by this museum which showcases the evolution of jazz, as well as personal artifacts belonging to some of its greatest players. Housed in the old US Mint, the collection spans some 25,000 items, from painted portraits of musicians to original instruments played by Louis Armstrong, George Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Prima, and other greats.
Don’t miss: Free jazz concerts in the museum’s performance space. Check the calendar for upcoming events.
Louis Armstrong Park
A historic gathering place for song and dance.
Tucked in a quiet pocket just outside the French Quarter, this leafy park named for one of jazz’s greatest players pays tribute to the roots of the genre. At its heart is Congo Square, where enslaved Africans used to trade, dance, and create music that became the foundation of jazz and blues. Also inside the park, the Mahalia Jackson Theater presents a rotating lineup of modern jazz acts and other performances.
Don’t miss: Artistic statues of jazz legends scattered around Congo Square.
A low-key alternative to Bourbon Street.
Less touristy than Bourbon Street, Frenchmen is where locals head for a night out and is home to the highest concentration of music venues in New Orleans. Many don’t have a cover charge, so it’s the perfect place for a jazz pub crawl. Impromptu street performances only add to the allure.
Don’t miss: Creole courtyards transformed into open-air art markets.
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
Serious jazz in an intimate setting.
Many of the top jazz acts in New Orleans are regulars at this Frenchmen Street venue. A capacity of fewer than 100 means there's not a bad seat in the house, and the audience gets an up-close look at performers. Arrive early for drinks or a Southern-style dinner in the bistro.
Don’t miss: The barbecue shrimp and loaded baked potato—favorites from the bistro menu.
The Spotted Cat Music Club
Fantastic jazz and blues, without the fuss.
Consistently ranked among the best New Orleans jazz clubs, this pint-sized venue gets packed nearly every night of the week with local revelers who come to hear a who’s-who of local jazz, blues, and funk bands. Be sure to arrive early to snag a seat, as the small space is often standing-room only.
Don’t miss: A top-down perspective on the musicians, thanks to angled mirrors above the stage.
Backstreet Cultural Museum
A celebration of New Orleans’ African American heritage.
This small yet powerful museum in the Faubourg Tremé district is dedicated to the cultural traditions of the city’s African American community. From jazz funerals and second-line parades to colorful Mardi Gras garb and social aid societies, it offers an uplifting look at uniquely New Orleans customs.
Don’t miss: Elaborate costumes of Mardi Gras Indians and Rag and Bone gangs—both a cherished part of the annual parades.
Keeping jazz traditions alive since 1961.
Born as a space for jam sessions among local musicians, this historic French Quarter venue is humming with live jazz almost every night of the year. Performers are picked from a community of master artists known for their traditional style, while the touring Preservation Hall Jazz band brings the sounds of New Orleans across the United States.
Don’t miss: The chance to take the kids to a jazz show, as Preservation Hall welcomes all ages.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
An annual musical mashup to rival Mardi Gras.
If you're in New Orleans during the last weekend in April or the first weekend in May, don’t miss this annual celebration of the city's signature sounds, from jazz and blues to zydeco, bluegrass, Cajun, and everything in between. Known locally as Jazz Fest, it draws a world-class lineup of local and national acts for the ultimate live music showcase in New Orleans.
Don’t miss: Locally sourced Cajun and Creole food from festival vendors—think: boiled crawfish, jambalaya, muffuletta sandwiches, and beignets.
Big Easy Jazz Tour
More things to do in New Orleans