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Traditional New Orleans Jazz

Experimenting and improvising are important parts of this American musical form.

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Traditional New Orleans Jazz

Louisiana State Museum

Drummer Robert Lewis of the Eureka Brass Band, photographed by Henru L. Chauvier, 1959.

New Orleans was already a musical city when Louisiana became part of the United States more than two hundred years ago. It had opera and ballet, military parades with brass bands, choral masses, and street music performances. All these musical forms came together to create jazz.

Traditional New Orleans jazz is played by a band that usually includes a trumpet, a clarinet, and a trombone. The musicians sometimes improvise, or make up music on the spot, as they play together. These instruments are joined by a rhythm section consisting of piano, guitar or banjo, bass or tuba, and drums.

Traditional New Orleans jazz came very close to dying out about a hundred years ago. But the music found ways to survive through experimentation and reinvention. Some of the most famous musicians who played traditional New Orleans jazz are Buddy Bolden, Kid Ory, Sydney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong. Both tradition and innovation will always be a part of New Orleans jazz. The jazz musicians of today continue to improvise and adapt, just like when the music was young.