New Orleans music discussed, celebrated

The Band Half performing at the Sips & Stanzas forum. (photo: Justin Darden)

The Band Half performing at the Sips & Stanzas forum.
(photo: Justin Darden)

Dozens of people gathered to celebrate and discuss the history of jazz music in New Orleans and its effect on American society, including the future of jazz on April 20 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville.

The music discussion, ‘Laissez Les bon Temps Rouler: Celebrating the Music of New Orleans,’ was presented by the National Museum of African American Music as part of its Sips and Stanzas Series. The music event, moderated by Mignon Francois, included a round-table discussion about the history of jazz in New Orleans and its impact on American musical culture and society. The panel, featuring Sonja Hopkins, Chris Walters, Langston C. Wilkins, Ph.D., and Kevin Rimmer, discussed a wide range of topics related to jazz music—including the connection between jazz and other music genres. When the topic of the jazz rebirth was addressed, Rimmer, member of the jazz band Half Brass, said that jazz will always be a part of American culture—while ethnomusicologist Langston C. Wilkins said that other music forms besides jazz are moving music forward.

Jazz vocalist Sonja Hopkins offered her perspective on the rebirth of jazz music and whether it was occurring across the country, including comparisons to the change of communities and neighborhoods. She said jazz music is able to bring people of different backgrounds and communities together to enjoy the music. Hopkins said that as more people continue to relocate to Nashville on a regular basis and the city continues to thrive, jazz music is continuing to bring different people from different backgrounds together.

“What I love about Nashville is that you have every diverse community, every ethnic group,” said Hopkins. “We can all listen to the same music together, and I think that’s the one thing jazz brought to the forefront was to bring a whole bunch of people together to enjoy one thing, which was music.”

When the panel was asked about their favorite memory concerning the music of New Orleans, Rimmer said that his memory of New Orleans had occurred after Hurricane Katrina when he went there and saw a music band playing music after the storm had occurred. Wilkins said his example of New Orleans was meeting a hip-hop artist in 1997, which led him to study music. Chris Walters, pianist/composer from New Orleans, said that his memory of New Orleans music was when he was in a band that traveled to New Orleans for a performance. He watched a jazz band performance at a nightclub. Francois said her early memory of New Orleans jazz was listening to Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis and traveling to the city when she was 10 years old and seeing brass bands perform around New Orleans. That experience helped her become more exposed to different forms of music.

“My father wanted me to expose us to different music and different cultures and different backgrounds and I’m grateful for that,” said Francois.

Francois said that jazz helped her discover who she was as a person by taking up piano and vocal classes that led to learn jazz music by playing musical instruments. Walters said that jazz had an effect on him by making him a better listener because, he said, the person “has to listen to the way jazz music is being performed.” Wilkins said that jazz inspired him to study music. Rimmer said that jazz affected him by helping him be able to perform in front of audiences and to continue performing.