Into the Heart of New Orleans: A Brief Introduction to Jazz Fest
“...The tall sugar pines where mockin' birds used to sing, and I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi hurryin' into spring.”
-Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong performing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” (1947)
Join us “down by the riverside” of the Mississippi, all the way to Louisiana, on this journey inside the heart and soul of one of the greatest music festivals in New Orleans.
Participate in our giveaway for a pair of tickets to see the PFC Band Live! (see entry details at the end of the article)
From its beginnings, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was envisioned as an important event of great cultural significance and popular appeal. Jazz Fest was created and designed by the jazz pianist and entrepreneur George Wein, in 1954, at the start of the “festival era.” It was the perfect opportunity to produce New Orleans’ most unique and symbolic music festival in none other than the birthplace of American jazz.
The inspiration of George Wein not only came from music, but from the elements around the city itself; after all, it was the diversity of the community that was an essential part of life in New Orleans.
The city’s population hosted a large number of diverse citizens from all around the world. People of African, French, Caribbean, Mexican, German, Italian and English descent started to interact with each other, creating a mix of cultures and musical traditions, which eventually led to the creation of jazz, a genre that emerged from blues, ragtime, and marches.
Jazz started to gain popularity in 1917 as a rhythm used mostly for dancing, and its evolution was led by some of the most notable musicians in the genre like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, and other legendary musicians.
Mahalia Jackson and the Eureka Brass Band made an appearance at the first New Orleans Jazz Fest in April of 1970. After that day, the spirit of the festival was born.
The first festival attracted only about 350 attendees, about half the number of musicians and participants of the event. One of the festival volunteers was Quint Davis, a student who later became a key player in production, creative direction and talent relations, getting artists like Bo Dollis the “Big Chief” and the Mardi Gras Indians. The authentic location and exciting lineup spread throughout the music community, and solidified the festival’s staying power and success.
As the exposure grew wider and with more spontaneous artist performances, the event started to change its design. Wein added regional Louisiana food and arts and crafts booths along with an evening concert series for the best-known artists. This financial support was key for the development of the festival in following years. In 1975, the festival had the highest attendance since its start, with 80,000 people who gathered on the Fair Grounds Race Course, outgrowing the Congo Square— the original place for the first event.
As Jazz Fest continued to experience tremendous growth and popularity, more than 300,000 people attended their 20th annual event at the end of the decade and a commemorative poster was designed featuring the legend and grandfather of rock ‘n’ roll, Fats Domino. Each Jazz Fest poster design was created to represent Louisiana's music legends with iconic portraits.
George Wein explained why a New Orleans jazz festival would work in 1970: “New Orleans, in the long run, should become bigger than Newport in jazz festivals. Newport was manufactured, but New Orleans is the real thing.”
The festival celebrated Louis Armstrong’s centennial in 2001, reaching an attendance of 650,000 people. New Orleans became the first city to hold the most important jazz festival in the world, featuring bands and artists like Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, Santana, Robert Plant, Irma Thomas, The Who, Alabama Shakes, among many others.
Soon genres like gospel, R&B, rock, funk, Latin, Caribbean, folk and more, also made their place within the festival, establishing a celebration of historic, social and cultural significance in music festivals.
Listen to some of PFC’s jazz inspired covers:
Down By The Riverside feat Grandpa Elliott | Song Around The World
What A Wonderful World | Song Around The World
Get your tickets to see the PFC Band Live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival here.
Many Rivers To Cross | Playing For Change Band
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the Playing For Change Band Live at the Zony Mash Beer Project in New Orleans!
Click here to enter our giveaway for a pair of tickets!
All our PFC members get access to enter in an additional exclusive giveaway which includes a pair of tickets, a special t-shirt from the event and meet and greet passes with the Playing For Change Band. Not a member yet? Become a PFC member and get access to our monthly member raffles and exclusive content.
The winners of both giveaways will be chosen randomly, notified by email and announced on our social media channels, so make sure to like and follow our Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram.
Good luck and thank you for your amazing support!