Only a block away from a row of music clubs and late-night venues lives the world’s largest collection of musical history, stowed inside a serene 180-year-old building in Downtown New Orleans. It’s all inside a small museum, located on the rim of the French Quarter and sandwiched in between the streets notoriously known for debauchery and revelry. But, that’s New Orleans for you – a dichotomy of the present and history, music and culture, celebration and reflection.
To think – it all began nearly three hundred years ago.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum, housed inside the Old U.S. Mint, has acquired, collected, archived, and displayed various artifacts that contribute to telling the story of the birth and growth of Jazz music. The exhibits include anything from art, created both by musicians and contemporary artists, to recordings and musical instruments from some of the greatest musicians and Jazz influences. The museum also archives documents – sheet notes, legal documents, maps, newspapers and photos – that date back to the 1700’s, and further tell the 300-year-old story of New Orleans.
Music has always been a part of The Old U.S. Mint, as well as a large part of the city’s history. What began as Music at the Mint, a live music series held in the historic building, inspired what eventually grew into The New Orleans Jazz Museum. The museum was rebranded and opened in 2016 to celebrate the history of Jazz music through education, performances, interactive exhibits and year-around programming. It also acts as a research facility, due to its wealth of knowledge and documentation included in the collection.
Programming is both educational and entertaining and ranges from lectures to musical performances, conducted from a state of the art studio on the museum’s third floor. Afternoon musical performances start at 2pm from Tuesday – Saturday and weekly evening performances, which can be found on social media or on the website’s calendar, are streamed online to share with Jazz and music enthusiasts from around the world. The building’s courtyard is also a scene to many of New Orleans’s most renowned music festivals – counting French Quarter Festival (April 12-15th, 2018) , Satchmo Summerfest (August 3-5, 2018) and about 13 other annual celebrations.
Even with so much to offer, the museum is intimate, with Jazz music playing softly along every room. A tour can be done in as little as an hour or can take as long as a few hours, depending on how much one wants to take in. The beauty is that there is enough to offer to cater it to fit your interests and time schedule. And, no matter the time of year, the museum is always connected to the celebrations and rituals of the city.
Currently, New Orleans is home to Prospect.4, a four month long citywide exhibition that includes art from all over the world, but resonates with the culture of New Orleans. At the New Orleans Jazz Museum, Prospect.4 exhibits include art from Louis Armstrong (in the form of collages that once began from photos and notes posted on his office wall) and an interactive piece made of speakers by artist Rashid Johnson. Other current exhibits not associated with PROSPECT.4 include a beautiful collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes, a showcase on the women of Jazz called the “Women of Note,” as well as an homage to the late Pete Fountain.
2018 marks the beginning of the city’s Tricentennial, a year long celebration commemorating New Orleans’s 300th birthday. The New Orleans Jazz Museum will be updating the calendar with performances, celebrations and exhibits throughout the year to honor the event. One event to note for the Tricentennial is “Making New Orleans Home: A Tricentennial Symposium” in March 2018, which will celebrate 300 years of New Orleans music with light projections and interactive installations.
Whether you are a lover of New Orleans, music or history, the museum is a fascinating tie to further understanding where it all began, for both locals and tourists alike. You feel a little more connected to history, the streets feel more ancient, the buildings a little more haunted and the music is a little richer after seeing artifacts and learning about where it all began nearly three hundred years ago.
*Editor’s Note: See below for a list of upcoming exhibits and Tricentennial events, and follow the New Orleans Jazz Museum on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to stay up to date with new updates, performances and exhibits.
- Pete Fountain Exhibit
- Women of Note
- Save Art Trumpet
- Prospect 4 (Through Feb 25): Includes works by Louis Armstrong, Rashid Johnson, Satch Hoyt, Sonia Boyce, Darryl Montana, Dario Robleto, and Peter Williams)
- Louis Armstrong Collages
- Jazz Funerals Blues and Protests
Tricentennial exhibits in 2018:
- March 2018: “Making New Orleans Home: A Tricentennial Symposium”
- APRIL 2018: Jazz Fest Posters
- APRIL 2018: Jazz Painting Exhibit
- FALL 2018: Professor Longhair
- FALL 2018: Evolution of the Drum Set
- SEPTEMBER 2018: Cislanderus Exhibit (an exhibit in conjunction with the Canary Islands)