A poetic fusion of the melody and the moment is what trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and photographer Gordon Parks crafted when they teamed up in 2001 to produce 10 jazzy tracks for their Half Past Autumn Suite CD. Their vision was not just one of art interpreting life, but art expanding on the legacy of impressions that shaped the city of New Orleans.
Considered “America’s most European and Afro-Caribbean city,” New Orleans was founded in 1718 and ruled by France and then Spain for almost 100 years. With a population of 1.3 million, this city is a cultural gumbo seasoned by creative spirits from every region of the world. And to experience the true soul of New Orleans, you have to tune in to its musical and visual arts communities.
The sound of brass is rooted in the DNA of this city of lattice-framed verandas, mythical bayous, and jambalaya. Jazz is a musical form first shaped by Storyville parlor pianists, Italian brass players, Creole musicians schooled in Europe, and the African drummers of Congo Square (this is where slaves assembled on days off to trade and commune). Guitarist Earl King, pianist Professor Longhair, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Domino are credited with defining the New Orleans sound.
The city’s music festivals are launchpads for new talent such as 18-year-old trumpet and trombone player Troy Andrews. The French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest are in April, the Essence Music Festival is in July, and August hosts the Satchmo SummerFest.
Indigenous Zydeco, Cajun, and gospel music styles echo from sleepless joints like Snug Harbor, Café Brasil, Funky Butt, Donna’s, and Tipitina’s. They are all known for featuring legends such as Kermit Ruffins, Nicholas Payton, and a Marsalis or two.
It’s said that time in New Orleans isn’t measured in minutes, but in meals. For fine dining, all roads should steer you toward several spots: Pampy’s Creole Kitchen, a swank eatery known for its award-winning gumbo soup and glazed roasted duck; Dooky Chase, a celebrated institution known for its Creole gumbo and bread pudding with whiskey sauce (the restaurant is owned by Edgar and Leah Chase and is decorated with a rich collection of original black art); and Olivier’s Creole Restaurant — its French Quarter location attracts a mostly tourist clientele to savor flavorful Creole rabbit and crawfish etouffee made from family recipes passed on for five generations.
Mardi Gras isn’t the only city road show. Each August, the chic art galleries in the Warehouse Arts District host White Linen Night, a gallery with a party atmosphere (admission is free). Dressed in white, gallery-goers saunter along Julia Street sipping wine and pausing at sidewalk stations that provide gallery maps, complimentary handheld fans, and Cajun dishes. Other engaging sights for your art adventures: Ogden Museum of Southern Art (www.ogdenmuseum.org) houses the most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world; the Contemporary Arts Center (www.cacno.org) is a lab and platform for experimental works in painting, photography, and performance; the Backstreet Cultural Museum (www.backstreet culturalmuseum.org) is a grassroots effort with a one-of-a-kind installation