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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Fans fear for jazz's birthplace
By Chris Leggett
BBC News Interactive entertainment reporter

Jazz lovers are fearing the worst for the musical heritage of the city New Orleans, which has been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Aside from the huge human and economic loss to the Louisiana city, jazz fans are concerned that much of the music's history may have been lost forever.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans
Historic Bourbon Street has not escaped the flooding
Since the hurricane struck, music lovers have been trying to get information about the musicians and venues which have kept alive the city's tradition.

Eighty per cent of New Orleans was reported to have been underwater last week.

Despite being built on some of the city's highest ground, the historic French Quarter, which has been part of much of its jazz past and present, did not escape damage.

Flooding reached famous streets like Bourbon Street, a thoroughfare celebrated in numerous songs and home to venues played by stars like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong - both New Orleans natives.

Residents of another hotspot, Basin Street, which inspired standards like Basin Street Blue, had to be helped to safety by rescuers in boats.

For jazz musicians, seeing New Orleans in this way has been deeply distressing. It is like the death of a beloved relative
British jazz musician and writer Digby Fairweather

The website of popular venue Preservation Hall, open since 1961, says it is closed "indefinitely" as a result of the hurricane.

British jazz musician and writer Digby Fairweather says the damage to New Orleans has moved enthusiasts worldwide.

Jazz birthplace

"It is too early to say how bad the damage will be as it is proving difficult to contact people there," he says.

"I worry for the likes of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which had a phenomenal collection of artefacts.

"For jazz musicians, seeing New Orleans in this way has been deeply distressing. It is like the death of a beloved relative.

Mark Smith of the French Quarter Jackson Square Band walks through downtown New Orleans
Musician Mark Smith looked at what was left of downtown New Orleans

"The list of musicians to come from New Orleans is a who's who of jazz. People like clarinettist Johnny Dodds, Armstrong and more recent stars like Wynton Marsalis."

Mr Fairweather, who has written books like the Rough Guide to Jazz, says New Orleans is looked upon "as the birthplace of jazz".

He says: "It is recognised as the place where all the ingredients came together.

"All the major figures who forged the history of jazz were mostly born in New Orleans around 1890.

"The city's population was hugely varied, with Creole musicians trained in Paris mixing with the descendants of slaves who were versed in Africa's traditions.

Strong spirit

"It was a vibrant place with these styles and others like brass band music, minstrel shows, ragtime and gospel all being mixed together."

Mr Fairweather, who has his own jazz band which has released albums with the likes of George Melly, says British jazz fans have begun their own fundraising efforts for hurricane victims.

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong is among New Orleans' most famous jazz sons

"The devastation is distressing but it will not damage jazz. As an act of self-expression, it will always survive."

Richard Cook, editor of magazine Jazz Review and co-author of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, says the loss of archives and historic artefacts is of more concern than the damage to buildings.

"There are archives outside of New Orleans but one can only guess how many important items will have been lost," he says.

"Some of the younger stars have moved away so New Orleans' traditions actually live on outside of the city anyway.

"But if people are around to play and audiences want to hear the New Orleans style of music, then it doesn't matter so much if the venues have to be rebuilt.

"I am sure the spirit of the city will carry on."


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