Where is all the jazz? Nashville was so quintessentially country, and Memphis, for all that Beale Street was worth, was most certainly the blues city. I’d always regarded New Orleans as the home of jazz, expecting every bar to swing and dive and bellow out the screech of the sax, the pipe of trumpets and the thud thud thud of the walking bass. Without yet fully getting to know the city, my lofty expectations and the disillusioned reality have only delivered me mild disappointment.
Bourbon Street is a disarray of carefree young party players and out-of-date has-beens lost, trapped in a world of tacky, cheap entertainment and the din of competing noise and vulgar neon-lit lifestyles that ideally I’d rather not exist in many places, but especially not New Orleans. Not my New Orleans, bred from teenage fantasies and dreams of marching swing bands and topiary-laced balconies overlooking authentic, smoky jazz joints and the street life bustling with sweaty energy and enthusiasm, vivid colours and coloureds, whites and everyone in between dancing in joyous unison. Has this city changed, or was my preconceived idea of it all one big illusion?
So far the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street is the only place I’ve found that’s come close to the musical aesthetic I was expecting of this city. 20s, 30s, old-school brass band jazz—flat caps, tubas wrapped around the body, the thumping double bass and brushes caressing the kit to the toe-tapping, swinging rhythm. Here the rum flows cheap, trumpets parp, the trombone squeals and slides and the old sax players fiddle up and down on worn brass keys. The old crooners croak down the microphone as if you’re listening to an ancient record, thrown back into a time forgotten, black and white, whilst the eloquent dancers tear up the floor, throwing out shaky feet and swinging moves and all. Berets, flat caps, high socks and cool old cats… this is my New Orleans.