This week a cool friend sent me a custom-made CD full of unique holiday songs. One song that popped right off the disk was “Christmas in New Orleans” by Louis Armstrong.
Armstrong, if you don’t know, was a legendary jazz trumpeter and singer in the 1920s – 1940s, who also had some pop hits in the 50s and 60s and one more in 1987, a remake of his own “What A Wonderful World” that was featured in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.”
His voice, phrasing and style are part of the unique mix of elements that makes up New Orleans music.
Do you have any idea what that does for a music-loving native of that city?! Probably not, so let me explain. New Orleans music is almost its own genre, borrowing from many styles but blending into a distinctive gumbo of rhythms and sounds. The instrumentation is spiced with hints of Dixieland jazz and Cajun zydeco, the vocalization features that “Noo Awlins” accent and often the drum beat is similar to the percussion of the ‘second line’ jazz funeral marching bands (it sounds a little like taking two steps forward and one step back).
Boomer natives of the area heard it all the time during our youth. It’s in the streets for the tourists and old jazz preservationists; parents and grandparents knew the words to some of the traditional songs. That sound even oozed into some pop music of the mid 20th century, escaping the local scene in national hits from singers like Fats Domino in the 50s and 60s and Dr. John in the 70s. That song “Iko Iko” that was remade in the “Rain Man” movie soundtrack also has the New Orleans sound.
New Orleans music is part of the DNA of anyone who grew up there.
For me, just a few notes of that sound instantly rushes through my ears directly to my brain and heart. That’s not as messy as it sounds. The New Orleans music style is a sonic time machine instantly blinking me to any number of moments from my youth, mostly good times. Thanks to my friend for putting Louis on the CD.
Oh, here is the Louis Armstrong song, paired with a Billie Holiday song: