Music and Cultural Identity New Orleans Essay

This essay has a total of 1913 words and 9 pages.

Music and Cultural Identity New Orleans

Throughout history, music has made dramatic impacts on the way civilizations and
communities function and behave. Likewise, the behavior and attitudes of people in a
community add to the flavor and attitude of the music made within the culture. Examples
of this sort of connection include the Baroque era in Europe, where the character of the
common citizen and the music were very refined and structured, or in England during the
70?s, where the citizens and the music displayed anger and revolt against the monarchy.
New Orleans has always been a city that provides inspiration for musicians and artists,
and likewise, the creations that come from this city strike chords with many other
cultures worldwide and have impacted communities just the same. The sound and vibe of New
Orleans, especially right after the Great Depression, helped to release what can be called
the ?American free spirit,? by making the nation a more colorful, free, and honest place
to live.

There are three distinct sounds of New Orleans, all of which first developed in small
urban areas, and caught on throughout the region. These New Orleans-bred styles of music
are jazz, blues, and a more recent genre, bounce music. In all these forms, life in New
Orleans in its urban context is depicted through the music?s portrayal of emotion, action,
and event. The music has also helped to shape New Orleans? cultural identity, which is
undeniably different from any other culture in the world in language, behavior, ethic, and
daily life. The laid back, sexual, and nostalgic attitudes of the New Orleanian are heard
through the crooning of the blues. The high-spirited, ?dirty-dancing,? conversational
mannerisms are spoken through jazz music. The rhythmic chanting of a bounce rap displays
the tendency of those in New Orleans to party until the early morning, their desire for
easy money and better living (the American Dream), and most importantly, the pride he has
for his home in the South.

Congress called jazz ?a rare and invaluable national treasure of international importance?
that is the ?most widely recognized indigenous art form? in the United States (McDonough
11). Ellis Marsalis states ?jazz is the most American of art forms, the distillation of
the American Spirit? (Scherman 73). Apparently, from these quotations, this form of music
we know as jazz has had quite an impact on a nation. Many believe Buddy Bolden was the
first to play his cornet without sheet music to a basic folk beat, and thus introduced one
of the most important aspects of jazz music, improvisation. Louis Armstrong, once called
the ?Johann Sebastian Bach of jazz music? by Wynton Marsalis (popular band leader),
reportedly had once, while singing a ?folksy? blues/country tune, dropped his music on the
ground and instead of picking it up, began to ?scat? or sing gibberish that sounded
perfect with the beat, as he improvised the notes and sounds with his mouth in tune with
the song. ?Jazz,? Duke Ellington once told a newspaper reporter, ?is freedom? (Ponce 92).
When attending a jazz show, you will rarely hear songs played the same way twice. Jazz
is also very interactive and conversational ? often the musicians will ?trade fours,?
which means they will improvise soloes for four measures and then ?pass? to another
performer. Improvisation makes for a very conversational style of music, and it is social
by nature. There is the freedom to formulate an infinite number of emotions through the
music, and if you?re attending a jazz show, you have the freedom to dance and sing until
you get tired. This was not an accepted behavior for popular American music prior to the

Few of the founding pioneers of New Orleans jazz music were able to see their later
successes, for it wasn?t until after America?s entry into World War I and the end of the
Great Depression that jazz music gained recognition nationwide and evolved into big band
and swing. At this point, jazz had become the locus of American music. It spread very
quickly as many of the jazz musicians had left New Orleans to head North during the Great
Migration, which was caused by a plague of boll weevils on southern crops, a succession of
floods in the Mississippi Delta, and the availability of factory jobs in the North (Lemann
122). Today, jazz is still very popular, and the style has grown and evolved in many

The blues has played a similar role in New Orleans? cultural successes. In the early
1800?s, slave owners of the South wanted to prevent their slaves from singing various
African songs and chants; first, because their songs praised gods other than the Christian
god, and secondly, various African musical activities had been associated with attempted
slave escapes and revolts. Instead, the slave owners encouraged their slaves to sing
Christian psalms and hymns. The slaves would sing the songs with less enthusiasm than
their native songs, but would ?croon? them in a style that is now typical of blues music.
This form of the blues is not what became popular internationally, but it is the root of
what blues is today (Pincheon 4).

Blues became the first adult secular music America ever produced. It was the black
musicians? way of venting without displeasing the whites. It again, was a form of
freedom. As the blues evolved, it also brought about more positive messages, and became
simply a soulful way of expressing joy, praise, or sorrow. ?[The blues] has a sexual
meaning, the ebb and flow of sexual passion: disappointment, happiness. It has a whole
religious connotation too, that joy and lift? (Marsalis 39). The blues are about
accepting tragedy and moving forward ? which is a timeless and endless quality. The blues
can be conversational, poetic, sound narrative, or about life history. Before the blues,
there were few public outlets of frustration, especially for African-Americans, and there
were absolutely no sexual connotations within any other forms. The city of New Orleans,
especially downtown, is one of the most secular cities in the United States. Bourbon
Street boasts sexuality, alcoholism, decadence, and most importantly, happiness ? all
traits that the Blues helped to define in the city.

The blues also helped to integrate the black culture into white communities across
America. Until the 1960?s, a common view was that "whites were the mind, blacks were the
body." Blacks were supposed to be incredibly potent, sexy, tough, and having a natural
sense of rhythm ? everything the common white man wanted. Elvis Presley was one of the
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