5 Things We Can Learn From the Musicians of New Orleans

Me and my wife at the Riverboat Natchez

Hey everyone! Sorry for the hiatus last week, but I was on a much needed vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana. My wife and I decided to spend the week of Thanksgiving down there—we love to experience new places and cultures together. I took in my fair share of pralines and Bloody Mary’s and I managed to get the rest and relaxation I needed. But the blogger in me was gathering inspiration and taking notes.  On my flight back to NYC I realized there are a few things that the rest of us could learn from the musicians of the Big Easy.

1. Leave “Pretentious” at Home.

I was amazed at the humbleness, and down-to-earth personalities of the musicians I encountered. From the (stellar) band I heard on the Riverboat Natchez, to the jazzers in the clubs, to the street musicians on the Rue Bourbon, you’d think everyone was your long lost best friend.

2. One More Time—With Feeling!

I bet I heard “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “Red River Valley” a dozen times in the Crescent City. But you know what? Each musician had a different interpretation, a different version—each one said something completely different with those simple melodies. I found the variety captivating. Who says repetition of favorites has to be boring or the same?

3. People Playing for People.

The musicians I heard had a peculiar quality that I rarely find in large arts centers like New York or DC—the immediate impression I got was that these were real people. Maybe it was the laid back music they played, relaxed postures, warm smiles, or simple clothes. I’m still not really sure what defines this quality, but I am sure that when we stood on the street corner with 30+ others and listened to one guy play, you were watching a really talented person, not an exotic creature performing in a glass box.

4. Anything Goes…

Sure, a lot of familiar tunes were repeated: “When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Yellow Rose of Texas”, “Autumn Leaves” to name but a few. But don’t be fooled, there was plenty of original and spontaneous improvisation going on too. With my (trained) ears, I heard some funky harmonies and complex melodies—but that didn’t stop these guys.  No matter how familiar or how funky, these folks sold it to their audiences. As long as you believe in the art you are making, you can convey your passion to an audience. This proves that you can grab your audience’s attention if they catch the same fever for your music that you have

5. New Orleans is Music is New Orleans.

Music and New Orleans are inseparable and the musicians who perform there know it. They know that it’s their responsibility to keep the music at the heart of the city’s culture. They know the tradition that they belong to. They also clearly understand that culture is people too, and that for music to stay integral to the culture—they have to connect the music to people. It’s that willingness to reach out to citizens, tourists, and each other through music, to make real connections and experiences for their listeners—that’s what keeps their place (and value) in the cultural life of one of the greatest cities in the South.


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