The Soundtrack to New Orleans
New Orleans, as the world knows, is famous for being a musical city. It is the birthplace of jazz, one of the only purely American art forms offered to the people of the globe (the other, of course, being barbecue). It would be an impossible task to adequately represent the sounds and rhythms of the Big Easy in a list that didn’t stretch from one end of Canal St to the other, but if you’re looking for some musical inspiration that’ll make you long for the Crescent City, here’s a good start. Let us know what we missed in the comments!
Professor Longhair: “Big Chief”
There is a good reason why this song is evergreen. Those piano rolls, that beat, everything about it just screams “New Orleans.” While the music that pays him tribute might be named after another one of his tunes, “Tipitina,” “Big Chief” is the one that most people think about when they imagine Fess.
Louis Armstrong: “When the Saints Go Marching In”
It is the city’s anthem, sung by one of the city’s most iconic, treasured native sons. We have a football team named after the song, and an airport named after the singer. That’s how important this combo is.
Irma Thomas: “Fancy”
Miss Irma, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” could sing absolutely anything and break your heart, make you dance, and have you fall hopelessly in love. Sometimes all within the span of a single song.
Kermit Ruffins: “Drop Me Off in New Orleans”
In a town filled with insanely talented trumpeters, Kermit leads the fray. You also might have noticed his sizable role -- as himself -- on a little show called Treme.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: “Tailgate Ramble”
If you’re looking for the ultimate representation of Dixieland jazz, look no further than Preservation Hall. No microphones. No amplifiers. No electricity needed. Just pure, Dixieland gold.
Dr. John: “Revolution”
He’s always been in the right place, if not necessarily the right time. The good doctor (who you also might call “Mac”) is as New Orleans as red beans on Monday, white beans on Friday, and football on Sunday. At 74 years old, the man still never misses a beat, and has always been an outspoken evangelist of the city and its live, local music.
The Meters: “Hey Pocky A-Way”
New Orleans funk wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for The Meters, and this tune is one of their most iconic hits, along with “Cissy Strut,” and any other number of funk-tastic tunes.
Wynton Marsalis: “Cherokee”
When it comes to the world of jazz, the name “Marsalis” is a big one, and not just in the Crescent City. Wynton might live in New York these days (as did Louis Armstrong before him), serving as Jazz Director at Lincoln Center, but he’s definitely a proud son of the Big Easy. Not to mention that he does things with a horn that seem nigh impossible.
Rebirth Brass Band: “Do Watcha Wanna”
While Wynton Marsalis and others specialize in traditional (“trad”) jazz, Rebirth is known for combining everything from hip-hop to funk and soul into a blistering -- and seriously fun -- brass experience, which you can still reliably find every week at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak St.
Trombone Shorty: “Buckjump”
Also taking NOLA brass to new heights is Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who brings a rock edge to his soul and funk-inflected original tunes.
Juvenile: “Back That Azz Up”
The influence of Cash Money Records on the NOLA music scene cannot be overstated, and nowhere else is that more abundantly clear than with Juvenile. Also, hey, have you heard about this guy named “Lil Wayne?” He’s gonna be big some day.
Big Freedia: “Gin In My System”
Make it wobble! Twerking might have originated with tribal ritual dance, but artists like Big Freedia, Katey Red, and others perfected it -- along with the whole bounce genre -- right here in the Crescent City.
Crowbar: “Walk With Knowledge Wisely”
Oh, you don’t think of sludge metal when you think of New Orleans? Well, you should, because it was basically birthed here. Further examples include Down, Eyehategod, and other super-slow, super-heavy, super-ballsy bands.
Fats Domino: “The Fat Man”
Okay, so everybody knows “Blueberry Hill,” “Walking to New Orleans,” and other legendary Fats tunes, but the thing is that they never get old. The Fat Man is often credited for inventing rock and roll... just ask Elvis.
Allen Toussaint: “Southern Nights”
That voice. It’s inimitable and unmistakable. Allen Toussaint represents everything wonderful and magic about R&B in New Orleans. The only living, local singer who could even begin to compete with him (not that it’s a competition), is probably John Boutté.
John Boutté: “At the Foot of Canal St”
... Because damn, can John Boutté sing. I mean, really. Damn.
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