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A Map of Jazz: Crossroads of Music and Human Rights

Karl Ackermann By

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The Cajun fiddle and Creole button accordion (or squeeze box) met with Caribbean dance music such as the Congo, counjai, and bamboula in a fusion of regional sounds that would set the stage for Dixieland jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
—Karl Ackermann
The following is an excerpt is from "Chapter 2: New Orleans" of A Map of Jazz: Crossroads of Music and Human Rights by Karl Ackermann (Self Published, 2020).

Developing New Orleans was complicated. The city was founded in 1718 in the colony of French Louisiana. The Louisiana Territory was surrendered to Spain in 1763, returned to France in 1803 and sold to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase that same year. The network of cultural associations was rich and dense, the political climate liberal, compared to the rest of the country. The city's first U.S. governor found New Orleans to be almost unmanageable given its resident's propensity to celebrate any occasion. The massive territory was divided in two, the Territory of Orleans (to become the state of Louisiana in 1812), and the District of Louisiana, which encompasses the area west of the Mississippi River and north to Canada.

Thousands of Haitian immigrants—including free people of color, whites, and African slaves—flooded New Orleans during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Other Haitian refugees escaped to Cuba with many of those coming to New Orleans in another significant wave of immigration in 1809. The free people of color added considerably to the existing community of Creoles of color while white Haitian immigrants joined with the French Creole community. Unusual in the U.S. South, waves of German and Irish immigrants came to New Orleans before the Civil War, further filling out the cultural diversity of the city. The multiplicity of cultures was not without friction. The uptown part of the city—north of Canal Street—was the "American" district while the Creole population converged on downtown, but as more black slaves and free black people arrived, the boundaries blurred.

The popular music of the country in the late 1800s was also prevalent in New Orleans. But the city was influenced by an inordinate mix of musical traditions. French Quadrille, Spanish folk music, black and white Creole music, theater and church music, marching bands and brass and string bands and a variety of styles practiced by parish musicians.

Call and Response and the Cuban Influence in New Orleans

As early as the 1820s, the U.S. considered annexing Cuba. U.S. troops occupied the island from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and the majority of Cuba's sugar business was owned by the U.S. firm W. & F.C. Havemeyer Company, which later became Domino Sugar. The sugarcane industry led to Cuba bringing in more than six-hundred-thousand African slaves and continuing the practice for decades after the African slave trade ended in 1865. African slaves constituted one-third of the Cuban population in 1886. From the late 1800s through the 1940s an active commerce route was established between New Orleans and Havana driven by sugar and the interests of the American companies Standard Fruit and United Fruit. Immigrants from Europe—predominantly Spain—were arriving in large numbers simultaneously. Cuban music has its primary roots in West Africa and Spain; the latter brought with them folk music and dances such as the fandango and zapateo. They introduced the guitar while the clarinet and violin arrived from other European countries. African slaves and their progenies recreated their percussion instruments and practiced their native rhythms using batá drums, bongos, congas, claves and the cajón. Call and Response sailed into the Americas with the slave trade and was widely used in Cuban music as "coro-pregón," and applied to nonspiritual music, such as rumba, or in African religious rituals like Santería. It was also common in the music of the African West Indies, Brazil, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and many of the Caribbean populations touched by the slave trade. The call-and-response compositional technique became integrated with countless genres of music including jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and hip hop. Polychoral Antiphony and Acoustic Delay are the rough equivalents of call and response in European classical music; two choral sections acknowledge each other through reciprocating phrases. Call and response, as it was in its West African roots, had a non-musical purpose that carried over the New World. The technique could be found in religious and non-sectarian ceremonies, sports cheers, protests, military drills. In the slavery and post-slavery South, call and response was ubiquitous in the work songs of field laborers, chain gangs and prison work details.

Nineteen-twenties jazz musicians referred to Algiers as the "Brooklyn of the South" and "over da river" based on its proximity to the French Quarter, the Tango Belt and Storyville, across the Mississippi River, drawing the comparison to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the East River. Only the French Quarter is an older New Orleans neighborhood than Algiers. The neighborhood was home to many African American musicians in the early 1900s and is considered the birthplace of jazz. Algiers was the primary holding area for slaves arriving from Africa and the neighborhood eventually was bought and converted to a plantation. Its slightly higher elevation made it more suitable for farming and the safe storage of cattle and gun powder reserves. A flourishing neighborhood of bars and nefarious forms of entertainment, it drew in many Creole musicians and some plantation neighborhoods formed their own brass bands, who played in Carnival parades and dances.

In the south of Louisiana, including New Orleans, Creole music—later, called zydeco—became a force, along with Cajun music. Cajuns, the descendants of French settlers were originally known as Acadians for the name they gave to their collective settlements. They had originally settled in the upper Northeast and the Canadian Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. In 1713, the British acquired Canada following the Seven Years' War (the French and Indian War) and the Acadian's refusal to relinquish autonomy resulted in mass deportations. A significant number of Acadians relocated and found a welcoming reception in Louisiana given its French Catholic birthright. New Orleans was a melting pot of the cultural influences that led to the pre-jazz era. The Cajun fiddle and Creole button accordion (or squeeze box) met with Caribbean dance music such as the Congo, counjai, and bamboula in a fusion of regional sounds that would set the stage for Dixieland jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Native Americans supplied a howling, platformed vocal archetype; the Black Creoles added original rhythms, new percussion methods, spontaneous vocal stylings, and characteristics of the blues. The Spanish guitar and French violin joined to give a new voice to the hybrid of European immigrant music.

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