Historic gathering spot for enslaved people
This plaza was the historic Sunday meeting place for enslaved people and free people of color where jazz is said to have gotten its start. The Code Noir or Black Code that was put into place by the king of France in 1724 gave enslaved people Sunday as a day of rest. They would often use this day to play music, dance, and practice their religions. In 1763, the code was relaxed and enslaved people were allowed to buy and sell their own goods, which many did as a way to earn enough money to buy their own freedom, a practice called cortacion. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Americans made life much harder for enslaved people and free people of color. In 1817 the mayor passed an ordinance that forbade enslaved people from congregating anywhere other than Congo Square. Because they had no where else to go, come Sunday the square would be packed with people playing music, dancing, selling goods, and doing religious ceremonies, all brining the traditions of their ancestors to their activities. The blending of these sounds is thought to be how jazz got its start.
Louis Armstrong’s safe haven
In 1913, the Karnofsky family took over the building as a tailor shop and second story residence. They hired a young Louis Armstrong to work on their coal wagons and they became his second family, even loaning him money to buy his first cornet. In fact, Armstrong wore a Star of David necklace for much of his adult life as a sign of respect to his "Jewish family" and friends he made along the way.
The birthplace of jazz
While Frank Douroux took over the building in 1908, this building's musical history is older than that. In 1897, The Odd Fellows and the Masons, two African American fraternal organizations, used the third floor of the building to host dances at which Buddy Bolden and his band often played. Some claim that jazz was invented during these dances by Buddy Bolden, and while there is no consensus as to where or when jazz officially began, all are in agreement that Bolden was vital to its conception. John Robichaux, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, a young Louis Armstrong and other jazz pioneers could often be heard playing in this building.
One Time In New Orleans
The fathers of jazz by BMike
This mural of Buddy Bolden and his band was painted by local artist BMike based off of the only known picture of the musician. In fact, there aren't even any remaining recordings of Bolden's music. The influential musician had a mental breakdown at the age of 30, just before the Eagle Saloon opened. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived out the rest of his life in an mental institution, until he died at the age of 54. The cornetist was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Holt Cemetery and it wasn't until the 90's that a monument was erected in his honor. Though it seemed like the world all but forgot about one of the most influential musicians of all time, his contemporaries made sure his memory lived on. Jelly Roll Morton recorded Buddy Bolden Blues and called him “the most powerful trumpet in the world” while Louis Armstrong, who was just a boy when Bolden was institutionalized, said that he was “too good for his time.” BMike, who used his friend's faces as the basis for Bolden's band members, intentionally left the halo around the king of jazz's head incomplete in order to symbolize his struggles with mental illness that cut his legendary career short.
Where Louis Armstrong got his start
This building housed an African American Vaudeville theater from 1911 to 1920. While jazz music was popular when performed on its own, this was one of the first theaters to use jazz to accompany performances. Its connection to the history of jazz is deepend because as a teenager, Louis Armstrong used to attend shows at the Iroquois. He even won a talent competition here that he performed after dipping his face in flour, an ironic take on the common variety show practice of performing in blackface.
The Little Gem Saloon
Live jazz at a historic site
From 1903-1909, Frank Douroux operated the Little Gem Saloon, a popular jazz spot before he opened his second saloon, Eagle Saloon, down the street. The saloon hosted greats like Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. The building was restored and reopened in 2012 and has a regular lineup of live jazz, making it the only building on the historic 400 block of S. Rampart Street where you can still see live music.