On a quiet corner in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood, a modest, mostly boarded-up double shotgun painted a muted shade of yellow holds a key to the birth of what we now call jazz. From 1887 until 1905, the building at 2309 First St. was the home of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, whose blues-oriented and improvisation-heavy cornet playing is now widely recognized as the first example of the genre.
For years, sites like the small, maroon stoop where Bolden helped engineer one of America’s greatest cultural touchstones went largely unnoticed, falling victim to blight or demolition. But thanks to the newly updated and relaunched Jazz Houses: Where They Lived app from the Preservation Resource Center, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and local tech firm Culture Connect, music lovers can now access interactive maps – along with music clips, photos, and short biographies – detailing the locations where titans of New Orleans music history once lived.
The Jazz Houses app provides a context so that you feel much more connected to the past and the people who were there.
Researched by historian Dr. Jack Stewart, the free mobile app spans neighborhoods from Uptown to Algiers and beyond. Many of the homes featured in the app boast memorial plaques courtesy of the PRC and the New Orleans Jazz Commission, which are working together to commemorate these important landmarks. More than 60 plaques have already been installed, with hundreds more awaiting plaques of their own, according PRC education and outreach director Suzanne Blaum. (Two of the next plaques slated to be unveiled will mark “Uncle” Lionel Batiste’s former residences at 2733 Annette St. in the Seventh Ward and 5543 Press Drive in Pontchartrain Park).
“The reason we should preserve the physical representations of jazz residences in New Orleans,” says Stewart, “is because when you go into the neighborhoods and see what their residences looked like, it provides a context so that you feel much more connected to the past and the people who were there.”
The Jazz Houses sites are searchable by artist or neighborhood, with buildings that remain in need of structural support enumerated in a separate “Jazz Houses in Jeopardy” section.
“It’s important to save the places where our jazz musicians lived and made music because it’s our culture,” says PRC Executive Director Patty Gay. “It’s what makes New Orleans unique.”
With the 2015 ESSENCE Festival just around the corner (July 2 – 5), it’s a great time to explore the app and learn more about some of the musicians whose work helped pave the way for ESSENCE artists like Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, and Robert Glasper.
While the app makes it easy to create a tour of your own choosing, we’ve put together a sample Jazz Houses tour itinerary to get you started.
Buddy Bolden’s Home: 2309 First St.
As ragtime transitioned into jazz in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Central City was ground zero for America’s new music. Buddy Bolden’s sound was never recorded, one of many reasons why so much of his story is shrouded in legend. Historians have deduced that he was known for playing loudly and improvising almost constantly – often from the stoop of this home where he lived with his family from 1887 to 1905. Bolden’s career was cut short when he suffered what was believed to have been an incident of alcoholic psychosis at age 30. He was subsequently remanded to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum in Jackson, La., for the rest of his life.
Today, Bolden’s house remains vacant after being purchased in 2008 by the Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, whose reps have said they plan to restore it, though it has continued to fall into further disrepair.
Kid Ory’s home: 2133 Jackson Ave.
Another key stop on any Central City Jazz House tour is 2133 Jackson Ave., where Kid Ory lived from 1910 until 1916. In John McCusker’s expertly researched book, Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz, the author depicts Ory as one of the most influential bandleaders in New Orleans. In addition to helping to develop the hot jazz style and tailgating approach to trombone playing, Ory saw early talent in players like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, hiring them for his wildly popular band. The house on Jackson Avenue, emblazoned with a PRC plaque, was recently renovated and is now a private residence.
Joe “King” Oliver’s Home: 2712 Dryades St.
In 1916, cornetist Joseph Nathan “King” Oliver lived at 2712 Dryades St., just a few blocks from where Bolden resided a decade earlier. Oliver contributed a number of key compositions to the jazz canon, including “Dippermouth Blues” and “Canal Street Blues.” Though he didn’t cut his now famous recordings for Okeh Records until after he’d relocated to Chicago in 1918, Oliver owed much of his sound and style to his hometown, where he’d mentored a young Louis Armstrong before eventually hiring Satchmo and a number of other New Orleanians to join his Creole Jazz Band, a group heralded for bringing the Crescent City’s sound to a wider audience.
The Boswell Sisters’ Home: 3937 Camp St.
From Fourth and Dryades Streets, head towards the river, taking St. Charles Avenue to Constantinople Street to 3937 Camp St., where the Boswell Sisters lived from 1916 until 1928.
By the height of their fame in the mid-’30s, Connie, Martha, and Helvetia Boswell’s swinging, close harmony singing had earned them 20 hit singles, international recognition and a legacy of three-part female vocal acts that spanned generations. But they were young teenagers when they lived here after moving to New Orleans with their parents. As teens, the girls studied classical music and soon began performing around town at theaters and on the radio, often as a trio. Despite their studies, their tastes began tilting towards ragtime and jazz – in addition to singing, Connie played cello and saxophone, Martha played piano, and Helvetia (or “Vet”) played violin. It wasn’t long before the Boswell Sisters developed a local following and eventually left New Orleans for New York, where they launched a recording and film career that brought stars like Louis Prima, Benny Goodman, and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey into their orbit.
As the Boswell Sisters’ popularity swelled, imitators followed, from the Andrews Sisters in the early ’40s through present-day acts like jazz festival and Frenchmen Street staples the Pfister Sisters (Holley Bendtsen, Yvette Voelker, and Debbie Davis).
Professor Longhair’s home: 1738-40 Terpsichore St.
Before leaving Uptown, head back into Central City to check out the former home of Henry Roeland Byrd, also known as Professor Longhair.
Widely heralded as a key architect of the New Orleans piano sound, ‘Fess mixed the blues with parade and Caribbean rhythms, barrelhouse and boogie-woogie piano to create a form of funk that ingrained itself in the Crescent City’s music vocabulary and never really faded. Although he stopped playing for years after his heyday from the late ’40s through the early ’60s, his return to the stage ushered in a new surge in recognition – and the creation of the club Tipitina’s, where he performed regularly from 1977 until his death in 1980.
In 2014, the Tipitina’s Foundation and Project Homecoming restored the house where ‘Fess lived during the final years of his life and reopened it with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
‘Fess created a form of funk that ingrained itself in the Crescent City’s music vocabulary and never really faded.
Plans to open a museum in honor of ‘Fess in the front section of the house appear to have stalled, but Byrd’s daughter and grandson, Pat Byrd and Ardell D. Hilliard, were able to move back into the house, giving the building a sense of family continuity at a time of skyrocketing real estate prices and wide-scale gentrification.
Louis Armstrong’s Birthplace: 723 Jane Alley
Some of the city’s jazz landmarks weren’t as lucky. To see the location where Louis Armstrong was born, head downtown towards South Broad Street. The house at 723 Jane Alley was torn down in 1964 and is now a municipal court building. A plaque where the house once stood reminds visitors of the site’s historic significance, while the Jazz Houses app provides photos that illustrate what the building once looked like.
Danny Barker’s home: 1277 Sere St.
From Broad Street, hop on Wisner Boulevard and drive along City Park to 1277 Sere St. in the St. Bernard neighborhood, where banjoist, singer, writer, and teacher Danny Barker lived from 1968 until 1994 and again in 1998.
When he wasn’t working to inspire a new generation of jazz musicians, Barker played regularly with New Orleans luminaries including Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, and his wife, Blue Lu Barker.
In addition to helping to shape New Orleans jazz through his prolific playing, Barker is often praised for his organization and leadership of the Fairview Baptist Church marching band, which boasted young players including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, and Shannon Powell.
When he wasn’t working to inspire a new generation of jazz musicians, Barker played regularly with New Orleans luminaries including Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, and his wife, Blue Lu Barker. Although the house at 1277 Sere St. was damaged in the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina, many of the notes and manuscripts that were inside the home have been redirected to the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University.
To explore more of the Jazz Houses or create your own self-guided tour, go to bit.do/jazzhouses or text the word “Jazz” to 99000 from your phone or tablet.