How Early Jazz Developed in New Orleans

There are many opinions of what is important in jazz history, specifically in New Orleans. The musical genre contains history that takes roots in colonization, slavery and much more.

New Orleans was founded as part of the French Louisiana colony in 1718. The territories were given up to Spain, but returned back to France in 1803. At the same time they were returned, Thomas Jefferson bought the territory in the Louisiana Purchase, meaning that New Orleans became part of the United States. People who could speak English began migrating to the area and extended the boundaries of the city. The massive amount of free and enslaved Black people in the area had brought elements of the blues, spirituals and rural dances to the rise of jazz music, since the early 18th century.

The region had a mix of French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cultural heritage. The residents had an appreciation of good food, wine, music, dance, and also celebrating the many cultures and languages within the city.

During the 19th century, ethnic diversity increased as German, Irish and Italian immigrants arrived in New Orleans due to its international reputation for music and the arts. The diversity created a unique musical sound that became popular.

Jazz started in Congo Square, New Orleans around 1819. Enslaved people would sing, play music, and dance. However, there were minstrel shows in which white people would perform in blackface. Music from the Caribbean, Africa, African Americans and American Civil War blended to form a genre called Ragtime.

Parts of the American South brought Blues to Louisiana, combining that with spiritual music and secular lyrics that tell the stories of slaves. Once Ragtime and Blues mixed, it made a unique type of music. The late 1890s had soulful melodies, upbeat dance tunes with the nice sound of brass instruments, and jazz started to emerge.

New Orleans had a big development and evolution of many traditions. The city is famous for its festivals, foods, and especially music. Different ethnic groups contributed in different ways to the musical environment, leading to the development of early jazz.

[Source:,, National Park Service]

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