Historic and Popular Jazz Locations

The city of New Orleans and Jazz music are two things that are always associated with one another as New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz. The city’s unique cultural blend created the ideal environment for this new musical genre to develop in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and to quickly spread throughout the rest of the United States and the world beyond. Many of the bars and music halls that were integral in the development and promotion of Jazz music throughout the years are either still in operation or still standing to this day. This month, the Clerk of Civil District Court Office would like to explore the history of a few of these historic and popular Jazz locations by highlighting some of our records held in our archives.

A Brief History of Jazz in New Orleans

Origins

New Orleans has always been unique from the rest of the United States in its cultural relationships and make up. New Orleans culture was Catholic and French-speaking as opposed to the rest of the United States which was mainly Protestant and English-speaking. The people of New Orleans were typically more “liberal” in their mannerisms and appreciated good food, drink, music, and dancing. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries festivals and celebrations were frequent in the city. The culture of New Orleans was enriched by both African and European traditions. As early as 1721, enslaved people from West Africa made up around 30% of the population of New Orleans. By the end of the 18th century, people of varied African descent made up more than half of the population. The Louisiana Purchase brought English speaking people into the city as well. The English-speaking people of color who came during this period brought with them elements of blues and spiritual music traditions that soon began to mix with the French, African, and Caribbean influences already present in the city. In the 19th century, German, Irish, and Italian immigrants flooded into the city bringing their own traditions with them as well. The rich mix of culture in New Orleans led to a substantial cultural exchange that created the perfect conditions for the development of a new genre of music.1

The Early Jazz Era: 1890-1917

The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century saw the birth of Jazz in New Orleans. European, African, and Caribbean musical elements combined with American mainstream music to form this new music revolution. Jazz also encompassed ragtime, blues, and spirituals, reflecting the contributions of African Americans to create a new genre that was distinctly New Orleans and distinctly American. In the 1890s, musicians who were not formally trained, who played improvised music, began to draw large audiences during dances and parades in the city. This improvisation became popular and drew both trained and untrained musicians into bands specializing in this improvised music which is now known as Jazz.2

Only known photograph of Charles “Buddy” Bolden taken in 1905. Photo Credit: https://www.nps.gov/people/charles-buddy-bolden.htm

Charles “Buddy” Bolden is considered by some to be the inventor of Jazz music. While this claim is disputed, Bolden was certainly a founding father of the genre. Bolden, an uptown cornet player, began incorporating improvised blues and an increased tempo to popular dance tunes creating a distinctive style. Bolden formed his own group in 1895 and over the next decade Bolden built a loyal following as he entertained people throughout the city. Bolden and others created a front line of their bands which consisted of a cornet, clarinet, and a trombone. This combined with a rhythm section of guitar, bass, and drums. Bolden and other New Orleans Jazz men became known for their collective improvisation which appealed to younger players and dancers because it allowed them greater freedom of expression, spontaneity, and fun.3

Jelly Roll Morton was another founding father of Jazz. This self-proclaimed inventor of Jazz, was born Ferdinand Joseph Le Menthe in 1885 to a middle class Creole family on Frenchman Street. By the age of 8, Morton had received formal guitar lessons and was soon employed as the piano player in a Storyville bordello, where he earned the nickname of Jelly Roll.4 In his teenage years, he blended ragtime with dance rhythms planting his style firmly in the emerging jazz movement. He is best known for being the first of the Jazz musicians to write down his arrangements with the Original Jelly Roll Blues being recorded on paper in 1915.5

Edward “Kid” Ory. Photo Credit: Historic New Orleans Collection and 64 Parishes.

Another of the New Orleans Jazz founding fathers was Edward “Kid” Ory. Ory was the son of a white French man and a Creole woman of African, Spanish, and Native American heritage and was born in LaPlace, Louisiana. In 1901, at the age of 14, he was leading a band of his own. In 1907, he brought his band to New Orleans and began to make a name for himself in the Jazz locations of the city. Throughout the next decade, Ory employed Jazz musicians that would go on to become stars themselves such as Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny and Warren Dodds. Ory’s band became an incubator for African American Jazz talent catapulting many young musicians to stardom across the country and the world.6

New Orleans Jazz began to spread to other cities in the early 20th century as New Orleans musicians joined riverboat bands, Vaudeville shows, and other national tours. As Jazz moved into the 1920s the center of Jazz and its development moved from New Orleans to cities such as Chicago and New York, from there the Jazz genre continued to evolve. While the center of the Jazz movement moved away from the city, the musical genre remains ingrained in New Orleans’s cultural identity.

Popular and Historic Jazz Locations

In order for the budding genre of Jazz to flourish in the city of New Orleans, the musicians needed locations to promote this new style of music. Many local establishments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were integral parts of the development of Jazz. While many of these establishments are now closed, other new establishments took their place to carry on the tradition of promoting Jazz in the city of its origin. We will first discuss three important locations to the early development of Jazz music and then we will discuss one location who plays an integral role in keeping Jazz alive and well in the city of New Orleans.

The 400 Block of South Rampart Street

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the 400 Block of South Rampart street was a vibrant African American commercial and entertainment corridor. Today, this block is situated in the heart of the Central Business District and is best known for the part it played in the birth of Jazz. It was in the buildings and the businesses in this block that many important early Jazz musicians showcased their talents. Three buildings from this era are still standing and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation claims that the sites were the hub of African American life in the city of New Orleans. 7

Little Gem Saloon
Little Gem Saloon from S. Rampart Street. Photo Credit: https://littlegemsaloon.com/new-index

At the intersection of Poydras Street and South Rampart sits the first of three buildings that were important to the early Jazz movement, The Little Gem Saloon. In 1867, the property consisting of 445-49 South Rampart Street was purchased by Frank Roder, a German immigrant to the city from Ms. Mary McFarland Walker for the price of $17,500. The act of sale was executed on May 20, 1867 before the notary Charles Stringer, an image of the original sale can be seen below.

Act of Sale from Mary Walker to Frank Roder, 449 S. Rampart St. Stringer, Charles Vol 6 Act 84 1867 May 20.

Beginning in 1904, the portion of the building that was designated as 449 South Rampart was a saloon and a live music venue under the proprietorship of Frank Douroux. 8 In the first decade of the 20th century, the Little Gem Saloon featured many of the early fathers of the Jazz genre such as Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. 9

Frank Roder, the owner of the building that housed the Little Gem Saloon died in 1907 and the many properties that he owned throughout the city were subsequently sold by his estate, including the Little Gem Saloon. 445-449 South Rampart encompassed Lots A-C of Square 297 in the First District of the city. Each lot and the building upon it were sold separately by the succession. Lot A, designated as 449 South Rampart was sold on February 27, 1909 to Fay S. Dean and Charles Tessier before the notary Felix J. Dreyfous (seen below) for the price of $13,500.

Act of Sale from the Succession of Frank Roder to Fay Dean and Charles Tessier. Dreyfous, Felix J Act 238 1909 February 27.
Legal Description of 449 S. Rampart continued from above image. Dreyfous, Felix J. Act 238 1909 February 27.

In a survey of Lot A of Square 297 was annexed to an act of sale before Felix J. Dreyfous on February 18, 1909 and can be seen below.

Survey by Danziger and Tessier. Annexed to an Act of Sale. Dreyfous, Felix J. 1909 February 18.

The saloon housed in 449 South Rampart continued operation until the beginning of prohibition in the 1920s. From 1926 to 1949 the building was a popular loan office and pawn shop, but regardless, it was still a popular hangout for musicians. In the 1950s, the building returned to its roots and became the site of Pete’s Blue Heaven Bar which was a stop of the Zulu Parade and the funerals for members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. 10 Throughout the years, the building changed hands a number of times and the businesses that were housed in the space changed as well. In 2009, 445-449 South Rampart was granted landmark status from the Central Business District Historic Landmark Commission and was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 11

Also in 2009, the building encompassing Lots A-C of Square 297 or 445-449 South Rampart was purchased by 445 South Rampart LLC. They purchased the property on October 13, 2009 for the sum of $825,000 (seen below).

Guider, Benjamin 2009 October 13. NA#2009-41102

By 2012, the Little Gem Saloon was reestablished in its original home. As a part of of the tricentennial celebrations for the city in 2018, the artist Brandan Odums painted a mural on the Little Gem Saloon building based on the only know photograph of Buddy Bolden. An image of the mural can be seen below. Unfortunately, the wall where the mural was painted collapsed during Hurricane Ida in August of 2021. 12

Jazz Legends Mural on the Little Gem Saloon Building. Photo Credit: Rebecca Todd-https://www.neworleans.com/blog/post/public-art-in-new-orleans/

On July 22, 2019, it was announced that the Little Gem Saloon would close. On July 23, 2019, 445-449 South Rampart was sold again, this time to 449 Rampart LLC for the price of $3,900,000 (seen below).

Simoneaux, F. Paul. 2019 July 23 NA#2019-29196

The Little Gem Saloon remains closed today, although a note on their Google Business page suggests that the restaurant and bar is open on Saints game days. The signage for the building is still up standing testament to the immense history of the building.

Odd Fellows and Masonic Dance Hall/ Eagle Saloon
Eagle Saloon Building. Photo Credit Hogan Jazz Archive, Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. Tulane University, 1961.

In the same square as the Little Gem Saloon, at 401 South Rampart, which forms the corner of South Rampart and Perdido Streets, sits another building that was instrumental in the early Jazz movement. On March 22, 1897, Joseph B. Hubbard sold 401 South Rampart to Frank Beck for $4,000 (seen below).

Act of Sale from J.B. Hubbard to Frank Beck. Cahn, Edgar M Act 427 1897 March 22.

In the property description, 401 South Rampart was designated as Lot 23 of Square 297 in the First District.

Property Description of 401 S. Rampart. Act of Sale from J.B. Hubbard to Frank Beck. Cahn, Edgar M Act 427 1897 March 22.

Beginning in 1897, this neoclassical revival building was the home to the Masonic and Odd Fellows Hall Association as they leased the third floor of the building from Frank Beck.13 The Odd Fellows was an African American fraternal group and they used it for dances and brought in bands to provide live music. Buddy Bolden and violinist John Robicheaux performed at the hall in the early 1900s.

On February 3, 1904, 401 South Rampart was purchased by Jacob Itzkovitch for $6,660 (seen below).

Act of Sale from Harriet Maria Beers to Jacob Itzkovitch. Upton, Robert Vol 15 Act 6 1904 February 3.
Act of Sale from Harriet Maria Beers to Jacob Itzkovitch. Upton, Robert Vol 15 Act 6 1904 February 3.

Following this sale, the first floor of the building housed Jacob Itzkovitch’s Eagle Loan Office where musicians were known to pawn their instruments between gigs. Around 1907, Itzkovitch moved the location of his business and Frank Douroux, the proprietor of the Little Gem Saloon, converted the space into a saloon. He named this new bar and music venue the Eagle Saloon in homage to the space’s former occupant. Buddy Bolden was known to have played at the Eagle Saloon on occasion. 14 In 1913, a young Louis Armstrong was arrested for shooting a pistol into the air at the corner of Rampart and Perdido right in front of the Eagle Saloon and he was known to frequent the area in his youth to listen to the bands and musicians playing inside.

Itzkovitch owned the building until 1924 when he sold it to the Peoples Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana. The building changed hands a number of times until 2007. On November 30, 2007 The Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation sold 401 South Rampart to The New Orleans Music Hall of Fame, Inc for $800,000. The first page of the act of sale can be seen below.

Cieutat, Becky R. 2007 November 30 NA#2007-84324
Photo of the Eagle Saloon Building today from the corner of S. Rampart and Perdido. Photo Credit: Google Maps. March 2022.

Today, the building is closed and no business or museum resides inside of it. It is still owned by the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame, Inc and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2022, the building shows photos of Jazz legends and a logo for the Eagle Saloon, but there are currently no known plans for its revival.

Iroquois Theater
Iroquois Theater Building between 1950 and 1955. Photo Credit: Nancy Ewing Miner, Historic New Orleans Collection, 1979.

Standing in between the Little Gem Saloon at the corner of Poydras and South Rampart and the Eagle Saloon at the corner of South Rampart and Perdido is 413 South Rampart, the site of the Iroquois Theater. The property, which is designated at Lot 26 of Square 297 in the First District was purchased on February 5, 1890 in front of the notary Ferdinand Kirchner by Henry Jacobs. Jacobs purchased the property for $3,200 from the Succession of John Barbe (seen below).

Act of Sale from the Succession of John Barbe to Henry Jacobs. Kirchner, Ferdinand Vol 2 1890 February 5.

On April 5, 1909, the property was sold by Yetta Frank Jacobs, widow of Henry Jacobs to Selig Pailet. Pailet purchased the property for $9,000 in an Act of Sale before notary Felix J. Dreyfous (seen below).

Act of Sale from Yetta Jacobs to Selig Pailet. Dreyfous, Felix J. Vol 84 Act 377 1909 April 5.

Pailet turned around and sold the property to George A. Thomas on July 6, 1909 in an Act of Sale before the notary Jefferson C. Wenck (seen below). Thomas purchased the property for $9,000 and he owned the property until 1925 when he sold it to Diana Realty Company, Ltd.

Act of Sale from Selig Pailet to George C. Thomas. Wenck, Jefferson C. Vol 58A Act 174 1909 July 6.

A survey of this property was done in the form of a plan book plan, or an auction poster. The survey, which can be seen below, is dated for February 16, 1832 and was created by the surveyor Joseph Pilie. This plan features 32 lots of ground for sale. The lot designated as 26 is the one where the Iroquois Theater sits, whereas the lot designated as 23 is where the Eagle Saloon is.

Plan Book Plan of Square 297 in the First District. Pilie, Joseph, Plan Book 105, Folio 18.

The building that housed the Iroquois Theater dates back to 1911 under the ownership of George A. Thomas. The Iroquois Theater featured African American Vaudeville performances and was one of the first theaters to feature Jazz performances in a formal concert setting as opposed to dance music played in nearby saloons and social halls. According to Jazz historians Lynn Abbott and Jack Stewart “from 1913 to the end of the decade, the Iroquois Theater was on the creative front line of distinctively African American entertainment in New Orleans.”15 Louis Armstrong famously won a talent contest at the Iroquois Theater and he was quoted saying that he often frequented the venue to watch moving picture shows since he lived only two blocks away. 16

Like the other Jazz locations in Square 297 the building at 413 South Rampart Street changed hands a number of times until 2019 when ownership was transferred to the 411-413 S. Rampart Inc. An Act of Transfer and Contribution of Property was executed on May 30, 2019 before the notary Andre E. Maillho (seen below).

Act of Transfer. Maillho, Andre 2019 May 30. NA#2019-21014

Today, 413 South Rampart is unoccupied and there are currently no known plans to revive the location, although like the Eagle Saloon and the Little Gem Saloon, the Iroquois Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Iroquois Theater at 413 S. Rampart. Photo Credit: Google Maps March 2022.

According to John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution, “There is probably no other block in America with buildings bearing so much significance to the history of our country’s great art form, Jazz,” in reference to the 400-block of South Rampart Street.17

Preservation Hall
Preservation Hall. Photo Credit: https://www.preshallfoundation.org/

Today, when you think of a music venue for traditional Jazz, often the first location that comes to mind is Preservation Hall. While Preservation Hall holds a prominent place in the city’s Jazz music scene, its story doesn’t begin in the late 19th century with the creation of the genre, but rather in the 1950s. Preservation Hall was born out of a want to keep traditional Jazz music alive in the city when other genres such as Rock n’ Roll was taking over the music scene in the city. The Associated Artists art gallery occupied the building at 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter. In the 1950’s, the building was owned by Lillian Zangara while Larry Borenstein rented the space to run his art gallery. Borenstein found that running his art gallery limited his ability to attend the few remaining Jazz concerts in the city, so he began inviting musicians to perform in the gallery. These gatherings featured famous Jazz artists of the time including George Lewis, Punch Miller, Sweet Emma Barrett and many more. It was not long until Borenstien’s sessions expanded and caused Jazz fans from all over the country to gravitate to the gallery including a couple from Pennsylvania named Allan and Sandra Jaffe.18

Plan Book Plan of 726 St. Peter Street dated 3/21/1866 and created by Charles de Armas. Plan Book 4, Folio 22.

The Jaffes came to New Orleans in 1960 as a part of their honeymoon when they heard of the Jazz performances occurring at Associated Artists gallery. The Jaffes were immediately enthralled by what they saw and soon moved to New Orleans permanently to be able to partake in what was going on at 726 St. Peter Street. As the jam sessions at the gallery became more frequent, Borenstein moved his gallery to the building next door and continued to hold nightly performances in 726 St. Peter for donations. Once the Jaffes moved to the city, Borenstein passed the nightly operations over to Allan and the space was given the name Preservation Hall.19

Sandra and Allan Jaffe. Photo Credit: https://www.preservationhall.com/about/

Preservation Hall aimed to support traditional Jazz and became a rare space in the South where racially-integrated bands and audiences shared music together during the Jim Crow era. In 1963, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was created and toured the Midwest to great success at Allan Jaffe’s recommendation.20 On December 28, 1983, Allan and Sandra Jaffe purchased 726 St. Peter Street from James Milliken who had inherited the property from Lillian Zangara. The Jaffes purchased the property for $600,000 in an act of sale before the notary Felicien Lozes (shown below)

Act of Sale from James Milliken to Allan and Sandra Jaffe. Lozes, Felicien Y., 1983 December 28. NA#528555
Legal description of 726 St. Peter St. Act of Sale Lozes, Felicien Y., 1983 December 28. NA#528555

Attached to this act was a survey of the property done by Gilbert, Kelly and Couturie, Inc. This survey can be seen below. The 1983 survey can be compared to one of the two plan book surveys that we hold in our collection. One from 1866 which can be viewed above and the other from 1872 which can be viewed below the 1983 survey.

Survey of 726 St. Peter St.  Gilbert, Kelly, & Couturie, Inc., 1983 December 23. Annexed to an Act of Sale Lozes, Felicien Y., 1983 December 28. NA#5285555
Plan Book Plan of 726 St. Peter Street dated 1/28/1872 and created by James Strehler Plan Book 2, Folio 5

Allan Jaffe died in 1987, but Preservation Hall is still owned and operated by the Jaffe family today. The Jaffe’s second son, Benjamin, runs the operations of Preservation Hall today and is the current bass player in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Preservation Hall still hosts nightly events where Jazz musicians can showcase their craft and Jazz fans can enjoy traditional Jazz music in the heart of the city where the genre was born.

Jazz music and New Orleans go hand in hand and the history of the genre shows us how it shaped the culture of the city. The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining creation of Jazz, Jazz musicians, and other musical genres. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn more about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.

References:

  1. “Jazz Origins in New Orleans,” New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, National Park Service, accessed on May 12, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/history_early.htm
  2. “Jazz Origins in New Orleans,” New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, National Park Service, accessed on May 12, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/history_early.htm
  3. “A New Orleans Jazz History, 1895-1927,” New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, National Park Service, accessed on May 10, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/jazz_history.htm
  4. “Jelly Roll Morton,” History and Traditions, New Orleans. com, accessed on May 11, 2022, https://www.neworleans.com/things-to-do/music/history-and-traditions/jelly-roll-morton/
  5. Emily Bonnell, “Jelly Roll Morton: An Inventor of Jazz,” The Journey to Jazz and Human Rights, Jazz.FM91, accessed on May 13, 2022, https://jazz.fm/jelly-roll-morton-an-innovator-of-jazz/
  6. “A New Orleans Jazz History, 1895-1927,” New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, National Park Service, accessed on May 10, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/jazz_history.htm
  7. Nicole Hernandez, “400 Block South Rampart Street: Landmark Designation Report,” Historic District Landmarks Comission, 2008, http://nola.gov/nola/media/HDLC/Designation%20Reports/401-3srampart-report_001.pdf
  8. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Little Gem Saloon and Buddy Bolden Mural,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed on May 17, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/little-gem-saloon/
  9. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Little Gem Saloon and Buddy Bolden Mural,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed on May 17, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/little-gem-saloon/
  10. “Frank Douroux’s Little Gem Saloon,” Louisiana Dancehalls, accessed on May 17, 2022, https://louisianadancehalls.com/dance_hall/frank-dourouxos-_little-gem-saloon/
  11. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Little Gem Saloon and Buddy Bolden Mural,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed on May 17, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/little-gem-saloon/
  12. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Little Gem Saloon and Buddy Bolden Mural,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed on May 17, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/little-gem-saloon/
  13. Joseph Cripple, Mindy Jarrett, and Charles Chamberlain, “The Eagle Saloon,” New Orleans Historical, accessed on May 23, 2022, https://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1303
  14. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Eagle Saloon” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed May 23, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/eagle-saloon/
  15. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Iroquois Theater,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed May 23, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/iroquois-theater/
  16. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Iroquois Theater,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed May 23, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/iroquois-theater/
  17. Prime Media and Randy Fertel, “Iroquois Theater,” A Closer Walk Nola, accessed May 23, 2022, https://acloserwalknola.com/places/iroquois-theater/
  18. “History,” Our Story, Preservation Hall, accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.preservationhall.com/about/
  19. “History,” Our Story, Preservation Hall, accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.preservationhall.com/about/
  20. “History,” Our Story, Preservation Hall, accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.preservationhall.com/about/

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