The focal point of New Orleans’ fabled music scene is the French Quarter, a collection of historic and ramshackle streets in the heart of the city, which is the spiritual home of authentic New Orleans jazz.
This life-affirming music was brought here by the slaves who moved into the ancient settlement between Canal Street and the Mississippi. Freed from working in the sugar and cotton plantations, the families gravitated towards the city and began to establish their own community. Over the years, as immigration brought new cultural influences, the raw sounds of the cotton fields evolved into something more refined and unique. Jazz, as it was called, became synonymous with the city and the authentic New Orleans sound is still recognised and performed the world over.
The French Quarter pulsates with life all year round, but if you can, time your visit to coincide with one of the jazz parades that regularly transform the narrow streets into one huge, noisy, colourful party. However, there’s also a darker side to the area, as you will learn on a visit to the LaLaurie House on Royal Street. said to be haunted by the ghosts of tortured slaves. The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is also part of the city’s spookier side and it contains the bones of the queen of Voodoo, Marie Laveau. Many superstitious people visit her grave to leave a gift and make a wish, hoping her restless spirit will bring them luck.
A romantic way to appreciate the area’s colonial architecture and historic landmarks is by taking a ride in a traditional horse-drawn carriage, which can be hired from Decatur Street, followed by a candle-lit dinner at one of the stylish French restaurants that have sprung up in some of the city’s oldest and most atmospheric buildings. Alternatively, catch a taxi, bus or tram to explore this compact quarter on foot, making sure you leave time to enjoy a spicy Creole snack or catch a live band pumping out red-hot jazz in one of the teeming bars – a time-honoured way to experience the authentic flavour of old New Orleans.