USA 2011 Chapter 4 – New Orleans: Jimmy Hates Jazz

As originally posted on my Tumblr site while travelling around the USA in 2011…

I really don’t like jazz. There, I’ve said it. Now, I accept that saying I don’t like jazz and going to New Orleans (birthplace of jazz and all that jazz etc) is like saying I don’t like snow and heading off to the North Pole. However, just thought I’d put it out there to start my post on New Orleans. You might also deduce that I haven’t had such a great time here in the Big Easy but that is definitely not the case. What I would say is that it is an interesting, sometimes confusing city. And while not essential, it would probably help if you are a big fun of jazz and seafood, not my strongest points as many of you will know.

I arrived here on a Friday afternoon in a good hotel right in the heart of the French Quarter, just down from Bourbon Street, probably New Orleans’ most famous street. I’d heard before getting here that this was the cheesy/ touristy hub and that the best place to go was actually Frenchmen Street, about half a mile away (more on that later). So, wandering out for a stroll to get my bearings I was pretty much immediately on Bourbon Street and quite a bizarre place it is, day or night really.


Bourbon Street, Friday night

As I said, Bourbon Street is the most famous street so you get all the tourists there, much like you do around the West End. However, it is also full of fratboy types and stag/hen nights and feels a bit like the US equivalent of a Brits aboard European seaside town. That said, with music blasting out of most pubs and the street exclusively filled with bars and clothes/gift shops, it is also reminiscent of wandering around a festival at night (especially as the street is shut off to traffic later on). Therefore, you sort of have a weird hybrid of Leicester Square, Ayia Napa and Glastonbury; a heady brew indeed. The strangeness of the place is topped off by the myriad strip joints that litter the street, with bikini clad babes trying to induce all and sundry in all day long, as unwitting families usher their eight year old children away from these establishments with a fair amount of haste.


Bourbon Street by day

As well as Bourbon Street, I tried to check out Frenchmen Street: the cooler stretch where all the locals go, yada yada yada. And there are indeed quite a few decent bars and restaurants up there. The main problem I had was that without exception they are all playing constant jazz; mainly live bands but if not some terrible music in the background that is definitely not “nice”. Now, I may have mentioned my feelings on this type of music earlier and I did think that coming to N’Awlins would go one of two ways:

  1. Hearing some “quality” live jazz in perfect surroundings would make me appreciate the finer points of the genre and open my mind to this type of music.
  2. I’d be annoyed by the jazz and would desperately try to avoid it.

I was certainly proved right and I think you can see which prediction proved true.

Therefore, for the evenings, there was really no choice but to throw myself into Bourbon Street. A few drinks helped the situation as is usually the case and although jazz was around, alternative forms of music were thankfully available. I was also expecting to hear some blues/R&B, which I am not against, and this is where I unexpectedly soon hit the jackpot at the “Funky Pirate” bar, as I encountered Big Al Carson and the Bluesmasters. They were playing some easy on the ear funk/blues (especially after the wailing cacophony of dead cats I’d been subjected to earlier) but it wasn’t the music that was so impressive but Big Al himself. He is called Big Al for a reason and the glorious size of him was a joy to behold. Originally I thought he was like a triangle with the girth he was offering up, but actually this is doing him a disservice as he is more like a pyramid really. Great voice though, a proper raconteur and really knows how to work a crowd. Cheers to you, Big Al Carson!


Big Al Carson and the Bluesmasters, live at the Funky Pirate

So, I made my peace with Bourbon Street and came to enjoy the blues there plus the rock covers bands that seemed to spring into gear later on. I was especially pleased to be treated to Whitesnake’s mighty “Here I Go Again” twice in 15 minutes while dipping in and out of various bars.

As for other reflections, it was good to be back in a city with narrow streets that are more pedestrian friendly and the French Quarter architecture is indeed somewhat reminiscent of Paris. Out of the touristy stuff I did, the best was probably my cruise down the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez, as I tried to recreate the “Karma Chameleon” video. Unfortunately, there was no casino onboard, but on the plus side no sign of George either, no doubt engaged elsewhere in some unspeakable acts.


Ahoy there captain. Reporting for duty on the Steamboat Natchez: guaranteed 100% free of dodgy 80s transvestites

In summary then, although not my ideal destination (and I always had higher hopes for Austin for example), New Orleans was certainly worth a stop. I’m writing this at the end of my last night here – next up is a long road trip through a little bit of Missisippi and Alabama, but mainly Florida, where I’ll end up in Miami in just under a week.

One thought on “USA 2011 Chapter 4 – New Orleans: Jimmy Hates Jazz

  1. Pingback: Adventures in the USA: 2011 | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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