Illuminating Our Jazz and Riverfront Legacies

September 29, 2021
On Saturday, October 23rd, the New Orleans Jazz Museum’s NOLA River Fest will celebrate the cultural, economic, environmental, and inspirational impacts and contributions of the Mississippi River to the Crescent City. For centuries, Old Man River has been an important route for trade and travel, has sustained livelihoods, offered opportunities for recreation, and has had a significant role in the culture, health and livelihoods of people along its long route.

The Mississippi River, the longest river of North America, with its major tributaries drains approximately 1.2 million square miles or about one-eighth of the entire continent. As rich as the literary tradition that grew up along the Mississippi is, the river’s musical legacy is arguably even more profound. The music that developed on its shores has largely been the product of the cultural cross-pollination of black and white folk music and popular styles, with roots in both West Africa and Europe. Growing from the creations of African American slaves who were prevented from maintaining their native musical traditions and felt the need to substitute some homegrown form of musical expression, jazz evolved in the complex cultural mix of New Orleans and traveled up the river, finding its way to cities north and beyond. The museum offers witness to the journeys of jazz pioneers King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Before the emergence of jazz, the predominant style of American popular music was ragtime, which evolved in the last decades of the 19th century in the playing of honky-tonk pianists along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and reached its peak in the St. Louis-based career of Scott Joplin.

The Mississippi River may be the most musical river in the entire world! Drum songs, folk songs, blues and jazz were all created and recreated along its banks. Musicians have been truly prolific not only in the sheer volume of works about the river, but by the need to create entirely new musical styles just so they could describe their feelings about themselves and the river. NOLA River Fest will virtually celebrate the environmental, cultural, and economic impact of the Mississippi River and the land it influenced through live music, presentations, panel discussions, and walking tours dedicated to the legacy of the Mississippi River, its culture, and its inhabitants. NOLA River Fest will explore why the Mississippi River should be conserved and celebrated while investigating and celebrating the connections that waterways enable between cultures.

Come in person or tune in to learn about the rich history of our Mississippi River community or to simply enjoy live local music from home! Free to all, NOLA River Fest’s livestream on the New Orleans Jazz Museum’s Facebook page offers access to audiences here and around the world. Meanwhile, don your mask and come explore the Jazz Museum in the town where jazz was born! Visit the event calendar at for their popular Jazz on the Balcony virtual and in-person concert series. If you are in town, grab a chair or blanket and a curbside picnic and join others on the lush lawn of the historic U.S. Mint for live local music! If not, tune in online and shake a tail feather wherever you are!

Enjoy great music, food and drink, educational children’s activities, and a full lecture series all with a Caribbean flair. The Treme-Lafitte Brass Band, Bo Dollis & Wild Magnolias, Jason Neville with the Caesar Brothers, Hot 8 Brass Band, Casa Samba, Jacques Schwartz-Bart of Guadeloupe and Dede Saint-Prix of Martinique will provide the musical entertainment. The theme this year is “Caribbean Connections.”

The Water Collaborative will do tours of the river starting at 9 am on September 18th. The tour will intersect with the second line that starts at Jackson Square at 10 am and then winds along the river to the French Market and finally to the Jazz Museum. Food vendors will include Carmo, 14 Parishes, and various home-cooked Caribbean dishes. Next door, our French Market partners will have Caribbean-style cooking demonstrations and acoustic music.

Consider this your invitation to dance the night away at The New Orleans Jazz Museum for the 2021 Improvisations Gala, a fusion of the senses featuring cocktails, live musical entertainment, and fabulous food. There will be unlimited access to the Museum’s exhibit galleries throughout the evening, as well as a dazzling Sound Collage. The celebration of light and music will showcase illuminated installations, digital sculptures, video-mapping projections, art animated by technology and musical performances to engage and inspire audiences of all ages. New Orleans Jazz Museum’s historic architecture will be transformed into a playground of light, art, and music!

Attend the 4th Annual Improvisations Gala on Saturday, December 4th from 8 to 11 pm for an elegant evening featuring live performances by premier New Orleans musicians. Enjoy the city’s renowned cuisine and open bar libations and experience the many jazz and art exhibitions within the museum, as well as the Sound Collage display outside. The Gala will be preceded by a one-hour exclusive event for Sponsors and Patrons at 7 pm with food and drink and a special Balcony Concert that promises to be a highlight of the evening.

Proceeds from both will help the Jazz Museum to globally foster jazz as one of the most innovative historically pivotal musical art forms through highly interactive exhibits as The New Orleans Jazz Museum pays tribute to the origins, evolution, and continuing relevance of New Orleans’ jazz music and culture. The Museum carries out this mission through a variety of mediums, including performances, exhibitions, audio preservation, education, scholarship, and jazz-related art installations. Throughout the pandemic, they have found creative ways to continue their mission and directly aid musicians in their greatest time of need. COVID-safe balcony concerts and live-streamed events have been staged to continue supporting and promoting New Orleans’ most beloved artists around the world. As the world opens up again and restrictions ease, music is once again filling our own streets and venues. This is something to revere! We hope that you will join us to celebrate as we encourage education and improvisation for a new generation of musicians.