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New Orleans in Montréal : The Cradle of Jazz in the City of Festivals

La Nouvelle-Orleans à Montreal: le berceau du jazz dans la ville des festivals
Michael Darroch
p. 129-137


Ce travail analyse les représentations culturelles nées de la présence de la Nouvelle-Orléans et de la Louisiane au Festival International de Jazz de Montréal entre 1999 et 2001. Il étudie la manière dont le Québec et la Louisiane ont construit un héritage partagé ainsi que des affinités culturelles contemporaines entre leurs histoires francophones, au travers des "images de lieux" touristiques de Montréal et de la Nouvelle-Orléans comme villes festives. J’introduis tout d’abord la notion de "l’image de lieu" touristique - le cadre de significations ou de narrations diverses associées à un lieu ou une région - avant de me pencher sur les discours de la Nouvelle-Orléans en tant que "berceau du jazz" mythique, héritage qui fait référence à son caractère festif autant qu’à son caractère tabou, originaire des bordels. Cette notion d’authenticité culturelle s’est d’ailleurs étendue à toute la Louisiane pour englober les musiques francophones "cadienne" et "zydeco" parallèlement aux efforts de préservation culturelle de la part des folkloristes et des élus qui combattent les forces d’assimilation anglophones. Montréal est, quant à elle, reconnue aujourd’hui comme la "ville des festivals", une métropole francophone qui véhicule tant la haute culture québécoise et canadienne que l’image d’une vie nocturne ouverte à tous les possibles. La notion de jazz comme pratique culturelle est donc fortement liée aux images de la festivité ainsi que de la transgression dans l’imaginaire urbain de chaque ville. Il s’agit ainsi de montrer dans cet article comment Montréal est vue dans le contexte du Festival de jazz comme un lieu où la culture louisianaise peut être célébrée avec authenticité. Je conclus en arguant que le marketing fondé sur l’image de lieu festif de chaque ville s’est mis en place autour d’une logique touristique qui cherche à construire en même temps une diaspora francophone nord-américaine. Bien que négligeables, les contacts culturels, économiques et même historiques entre ces deux régions se rejoignent par la mémoire de ce métissage.

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Notes de la rédaction

Elements of this paper were first presented at Sounds of the City, the 2002 Annual Conference of the Canadian Branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-Canada). I would equally like to acknowledge the support of the Culture of Cities Project : Montréal, Toronto, Berlin, Dublin, a five-year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program-me (MCRI).

Texte intégral

1Montréal and New Orleans are cities1 closely associated with the character of festive celebration. Festivity is an intrinsic part of the urban imaginary that these cities sustain through a variety of narrative discourses. For many, New Orleans, nestled in the balmy nook of the Mississippi delta, conjures up innumerable romantic images of the mythic "cradle of jazz" and its Mardi Gras festival, enveloped by the spicy regional culture of Louisiana with its own unique mixtures of musical and culinary traditions. Montréal, the bilingual and multicultural island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, is conceived as the centre of Canada and Québec’s haute culture, alongside its own carnivalesque quality epitomised today in its renowned summer festivals. Moreover, the history of both cities is riddled with juxtapositions of their cultural sophistication and cosmopolitanism to sleaze, vice and sin-characteristics closely linked to the proliferation of jazz music. Thus, in differentiated but comparable ways, each city enchants the newcomer with visions of high cultural specialities, yet promises simultaneously the possibility of promiscuity and unbridled licence.

2Although these cities, as well as the greater regions of Québec and Louisiana, are indeed linked by their French colonial past, they have remained largely disconnected both culturally and economically throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries, despite an increasing mutual interest between the regions since the 1960s (Hero, 1995). Nevertheless, the mythology of heritage shared between the regions is strong, for example, in the story of the French Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia by the British in the mid-1700s. Tales such as the legend of Evangeline, the poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847) about two lovers separated by the deportation, lend themselves well to a longstanding sense of a diasporic community spread out in the Mississippi basin. These stories have taken on an integral function in the promotion of Franco-Louisiana as a tourist destination (Le Menestrel 1999, p. 278-316). Although the use of French has been endangered in Louisiana to a much greater degree than in Québec, comparable discourses of cultural preservation and protection are found in both regions.

3Since 1999, the State of Louisiana has invested substantially in the Festival international de jazz de Montréal in a bid to promote tourism between the regions. The Government of Québec warmly welcomed this initiative "to strengthen cultural and heritage ties with the most French-influenced state in the U.S.", as claimed one press release targeting Americans (Québec Update, 2000, p. 2). Promo-tional material from both the Festival and the respective regional governments, as well as media reception of the collaboration, often blur the discourses and myths surrounding the cosmo-politanism and cultural vitality of the two cities with such an endorsement of the largely fabricated, shared cultural heritage of these two regions of postcolonial French North America. This paper attempts to trace the discursive place-myth of New Orleans as the "cradle of jazz" and that of Montréal as a "city of festivals" in order to understand the representation of New Orleans music in the context of the Festival international de jazz de Montréal from 1999 to 2001. In this way, I investigate the ways in which images of New Orleans and Louisiana culture are appropriated to foster a sense of shared cultural heritage primarily between the francophone histories of the regions, as well as to promote the tourist place-images of both New Orleans and Montréal as spaces for festive celebration.

4As a form of cultural expression, the music of New Orleans evokes complex notions of authorship and invention : the profoundly seductive image of turn-of-the-century New Orleans as the creative scene in which jazz music germinated. In the broader image of greater Louisiana, predominantly fostered by the tourist industry, the idea of New Orleans as the "cradle of jazz" is additionally bound up with common perceptions of a French-influenced regional culture, where various musical styles such as Cajun and Zydeco are asserted to be traditional and, therefore, culturally authentic. First, I wish to outline aspects of the mythologized place-image of New Orleans by examining discourses of authorship and invention, authenticity and tradition, foremost with respect to the origins of jazz, but also necessarily to the cultural dynamism of greater Louisiana. To this end, I draw on narrative, historical and folkloric accounts of New Orleans as jazz’s breeding ground and juxtapose these to the emergence of a unified symbolic representation of Louisiana culture. Second, I investigate the appropriation of New Orleans’ place-image in the promotion of Montréal as a place where "traditional" New Orleans music may be "authentically celebrated" - a celebration justified in part by the assertion of francophone cultural links between Québec and Louisiana. It is important, first, to outline some definitions of the notion of place-image before moving to the specific case studies.

Place-images and place-myths

5The notion of place-image has been developed as much by cultural and urban geographers as by urban planners and marketers. In the sphere of urban geography, Tim Hall defines "place-image" as a "simplified, generalised, often stereotypical, impression that people have of any place or area" (Hall, 1998, p. 119). Rob Shields, in his astute social analysis of spatial and geographical perception, defines "place-images" as "the various discrete meanings associated with real places or regions regardless of their character in reality" (Shields, 1991, p. 60). Place-images are thus constituted by both denotative and connotative mythical meanings, which collectively can develop into a broader place-myth (ibid., p.61). Geoff Stahl, in his analysis of Montréal’s contemporary Anglo-Bohemia scene, elaborates on Shields’ descrip-tion : "Place-images are rooted in idiosyncratic symbolic and imaginative frameworks which help to embed individuals and groups in a particular place and at the same time serve as framing mechanisms that encourage or circumscribe cultural activity and expression. Place-images function in tandem with myth-making to establish a city-as-sign" (Stahl, 2001, p.117).

6Place-images, therefore, are not necessarily congruous with the notions of "cognitive mapping" or "mental souvenirs", concepts frequently drawn upon to describe the social perception of urban spaces.

7Image building and the promotion of places is furthermore an essential ingredient in urban marketing strategies. An analysis of media or promotional material alone is insufficient to discern the means by which tourists construct an image of a particular place, as both common knowledge and individual experiences can broadly influence the impressions formulated of a destination (Ashworth and Voogd, 1990). Never-theless, while the production of urban place-images is a complex and subtle process that in many ways defies observation, the goal in this paper is to consider the types of narrative discourses that have established New Orleans as a signifier of jazz music’s origins in conjunction with Louisiana’s greater image and their role in the promotion of Montréal’s jazz festival.

Narrating origins : new orleans as the "cradle of jazz"

8In his lively book Coming through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje reproduces an account offered by New Orleans musician Dude Botley of the renowned Buddy Bolden, a cornet player from turn-of-the-century New Orleans frequently considered the "first man of jazz" :

"I see him walk to the back of the parlor where the light is and he come back with a bottle and the cornet. He try first to drink but he begin crying and he put the bottle in the sink. The tears came to my eyes too. I got to thinking of all the men that dance to him and the women that idolize him as he used to strut up and down the streets. Where are they now I say to myself. Then I hear Bolden’s cornet, very quiet, and I move across the street, closer. There he is, relaxed back in a chair blowing that silver softly, just above a whisper and I see he’s got the hat over the bell of the horn... Thought I knew his blues before, and the hymns at funerals, but what he is playing now is real strange and I listen careful for he’s playing something that sounds like both. I cannot make out the tune and then I catch on. He’s mixing them up. He’s playing the blues and the hymn sadder than the blues and then the blues sadder than the hymns. That is the first time I ever heard hymns and blues cooked up together" (Ondaatje, 1976, p. 80-81).

9In this image, Buddy Bolden is seen as unique, as an inventor - the first and only player capable of mixing blues and funeral hymns into a new form. A strong sense of authenticity accompanies this music : he is not playing as an act of performance, but playing "his blues" naturally, a form of pure personal expression to relieve his grief. Here, the onlooker, a privileged witness to an otherwise private occasion, makes an implicit comparison between Bolden’s improvisation and the more familiar image of his crowd-pleasing performan-ces, of "the men that dance to him and the women that idolize him". Furthering his authenticity, a mystical aura enshrouds Bolden’s "strange music" as Dude Botley continues his account : "I’m sort of scared because I know the Lord don’t like that mixing the Devil’s music with His music. But I still listen because the music sounds so strange and I guess I’m hypnotised" (ibid., p. 81). This mystique finally places Bolden in a position of power or authority : a musician capable of manipulating devilish and sacred musics, seducing the listener into a mesmerised state of being.

10Accounts of the origins of jazz music such as this one are consistently framed in attempts to identify founding figures like Buddy Bolden, seen almost as authorial progenitors of a musical discursive practice, within the murky history of a mysterious place : turn-of-the-century New Orleans. Folklorist versions of jazz history tend to glorify an easy belief in the culturally specific moment in which jazz was spawned. Such a claim is made, for example, by Alan Lomax in his 1952 book Mister Jelly Roll about the self-declared inventor of jazz, pianist Jelly Roll Morton :

"Jelly Roll’s life story spans the whole of the 'jazz age', from the street bands of New Orleans to the sweet bands of New York. With him we can leave behind the marketplaces of Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley and return to the moment of germination in New Orleans. In his sorrows and his fantasies we can find the very quality which distinguishes jazz from the many other forms of American music rooted in Africa - from the spirituals, from the works songs, from the blues and ragtime" (Lomax, 1952, p. xv).

11Concepts of musical authorship and the authenticity of creation are manifold and address a number of complex issues. The narrative examples I have cited demonstrate how a single individual may be accredited as the creator of, or the original contributor to, a musical tradition. In the case of Buddy Bolden, the various aspects that contribute to an idea of authorship (uniqueness, originality, authenticity, genuineness, mystique, authority) are articulated through an experience that reveals the affect of his music and thus, if indirectly, the relation between his performance and his audience. We might draw upon a concept of intertextuality - the idea that a work depends on or is made out of prior works that it takes up, repeats, challenges or transforms - to begin to explain how aspects of Bolden’s cornet playing have been remembered and, by extension, how his music influenced later musicians. In this way, we could interpret Bolden as representing the individual transformation of a musical tradition that consists of greater collective processes. Music historian Martin Williams takes precisely this approach to Bolden’s musicmaking in his 1967 book Jazz Masters of New Orleans :

"Obviously, Buddy Bolden did not pop out of Zeus’s head. He and his band had been there, playing their horns before there was any Lincoln Park. And just as obviously there was some kind of musical tradition behind him. Still, Bolden was 'King' to the populace by their own proclamation, and 'a man who started it all' in New Orleans jazz to the musicians. So what he did was give the music a dramatic, secular focus, both for his audiences and for its present and future practitioners" (Williams, 1967, p.3).

12From this viewpoint, Bolden’s authorship consists of a combination of his musical innovation, the historical moment where this music is played publicly, the memory of these performances in the communal consciousness, and, importantly, the places in which he is remembered to have played.

13In this way, specific spaces of turn-of-the-century New Orleans have crystallised in the mythology of the creation of jazz music : spaces like Congo Square, where communal festivities of slaves took place until such gatherings were prohibited in public parks after the American Civil War. These celebrations were later revived in uptown New Orleans at Lincoln Park, mentioned in the above citation, where Bolden’s band first began to play in the 1890s (Barker, 1998, p. 6-16).

14Foremost among the images of such spaces is Storyville, the infamous red-light district that lived out its brief 20-year existence between 1896 and 1917, possibly the most significant place-image in the mythmaking that enshrouds the origins of jazz in New Orleans. A place where vice and sexual gratification were condoned and even encouraged, Storyville brought together musicians and patrons from various parts of New Orleans society, breaking down a complex system of societal barriers that existed between the white, black and Creole populations. In Storyville, a black musician such as Tony Jackson or a lighter-skinned Creole such as Jelly Roll Morton, dubbed "piano professors" for their reportedly inexhaustible repertoires, had an unprecedented opportunity to play for an audience of equally varying provenance in the New Orleans landscape. To maintain popularity, they had to keep their repertoire up-to-date, which meant familiarizing themselves with music of many varieties, from operas and ragtime to the songs of Tin Pan Alley. Clearly, not all the music played in these institutions was indigenous to New Orleans ; thus, as Storyville historian Al Rose points out, the myth that jazz was "born" in Storyville is hardly credible. Rather the opposite took place : the fact that Storyville brothels provided lucrative employment for a large number of musicians led to common associations of jazz music as "whorehouse music".

15As much as musicians trained in classical European traditions denounced early jazz as deriving from musical "incompetence" or mistakes, they also correlated it with sin and vice, images that had much to do with the coalescence of jazz forms within a "tenderloin district", that is, as lowbrow music played in bad taste (Rose, 1974, p.106). Despite these claims, the Storyville District provided a unique set of conditions for musicians : the formation of a diverse and not overly critical audience, which responded more to what the pianist was playing than demanded that he play in specific ways, meant that piano players had substantial freedom to experiment (ibid., p.107).

16Whether or not we are able to trace the origins of jazz beyond its surfacing in places like Congo Square, Lincoln Park, or Storyville, the place-myth of turn-of-the-century New Orleans as the source of jazz music is profound, conjuring up impressions of everything from parade and carnival music to smoky bar lounges. With time, many of these place-images have come to be associated with the neighbouring, and now iconic, French Quarter and its central Bourbon Street, the tourist hub of today’s New Orleans : images that continue to inform common perceptions of street music and piano bar musicians. Today, the space that Storyville inhabited is an inner "city project", which tourist guides warn visitors to avoid at all costs - an image that corresponds with New Orleans’ contemporary reputation as the crime capital of the United States. Nevertheless, the mythology of New Orleans has been established to such a degree that the city’s name alone is sufficient to signify the Jazz Age, as F. Scott Fitzgerald dubbed it, in all its glory. Moreover, the popular-festive spirit of New Orleans is available to us today in an array of representations that have been blended into the festive culture of Louisiana, from the Mardi Gras carnival to marching bands, from white Dixieland jazz to Louisiana Creole cuisine as well as Cajun and Zydeco music and their respective dance rituals.

17It is not surprising, then, that notions of authenticity and tradition abound as well for the many customs of Louisiana regional culture. These can be found at the centre of preservationist efforts on the part of local folklorists and elected officials combating the forces of assimilation. The French language was banned from the educational system in 1921, and was only officially recognized again in 1968 with the creation of CODOFIL, the Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane. The institution of French immersion programmes in elementary and secondary schools, which have increased substantially since the late 1980s, is possibly CODOFIL’s greatest achievement. Beyond linguistic preservation, the protectors of Louisiana French culture, faced with the logics of tourism and globalisation, have promoted what they regard as the underpinnings of their local identity : culinary specialities such as Cajun and Creole Gumbo, or the rice-dish Jambalaya ; the French musical heritage of Cajun and Zydeco ; and dances such as the waltz and the two-step, as well as the typical instruments that accompany all these. Thus, the notions of authenticity and tradition have been equally central to commercializing and institutionalizing local culture. Interesting in this regard is the Legislative Act No. 409, which empowers CODOFIL to "do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state" (, my emphasis).

18Reproductive technologies have clearly contributed to the commercialization and dissemination of local musical culture deemed authentic. Although the first recording of a Cajun song, Allons à Lafayette, was produced in 1928 by Joe Falcon and Cléoma Breaux, much of the international representation of Louisiana culture has been fostered by independent record labels in search of local folklore, such as Massachusetts-based Rounder Records, set up in the early 1970s. Interestingly, popular international representatives of Cajun music, such as Zachary Richard - who, incidentally, has travelled extensively in Québec where his music and poetry remain extremely popular - or even the group Beausoleil have frequently met with disdain by folklorists who consider their music a blending of traditional Cajun with rock and pop inspired by New Orleans performers such as the Neville Brothers and Dr. John (Le Menestrel, 1999, p. 330). Similarly, Zydeco music, accordion-led French music developed originally by African Americans who had adopted the French language, began to take shape in its contemporary form with a Rhythm and Blues spin in the 1960s when musician Clifton Chenier recorded "Les z-haricots sont pas salés", (the beans are not salted, an expression meaning that the times are tough when there is no salted meat to accompany the beans). It is widely accepted that the term Zydeco derived from the liaison made between "les" and "haricots" in this expression (Le Menestrel, 1999, p. 404)).

19The search for authenticity in rural Louisiana has thus been a polemic task that is tightly bound up both with local apprehension towards the deterioration of francophone communities and the commercialization of culture. The ethnologist Sara Le Menestrel has demonstrated well how the purportedly traditional dance known as Cajun jig or jitterbug is a tradition that was largely invented in the 1970s (1999, p. 325-328). Moreover, narratives of discovery and salvage by labels such as Rounder have fostered a tension between a desire to leave origins murky and to pinpoint historical sequences that have established particular traditions. Le Menestrel suggests, in this way, that the notion of tradition is merely a way of interpreting the present through the past, implying a continual act of constructing and re-constructing significance that changes with every form and occasion of its re-enactment (ibid., p. 343). If this is the case, then indeed all tradition that claims authenticity is a case of invention and re-invention.

20One of the means of selling the tourist place-image of Louisiana and especially of New Orleans has been the proliferation of festivals. Playing on the festive spirit associated, among other things, with Mardi Gras carnival, countless festivals now take place throughout Louisiana celebrating both local music and cuisine. Foremost among these is the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, founded in 1978. Although the festival has increasingly showcased international performers, the focus remains to bring together musicians from all regions of Louisiana to celebrate its polyphony of musical tradition and invention. In 1999, Louisiana’s Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism staged the FrancoFête, a state-wide, yearlong celebration to commemorate simultaneously the 300th anniversary of French influence in Louisiana and the 100th anniversary of the invention of jazz. As part of the promotion of FrancoFête, Louisiana exported its multitude of place-images to the Festival international de Jazz de Montréal.

Reinventing montreal : the "city of festivals"

21Both festive celebration and jazz music make up a considerable part of Montréal’s history, although with profoundly different influences. In the late 19th century, ice dances were a central Montréal attraction, fancy-dress skating carnivals that took place on skating rinks around the city. In 1883, Montréal staged its first Winter Carnival, the first of its kind in North America, a festivity that, "having fused traditional Nordic festivities with the capital, ingenuity, and dynamism of a booming modern industrial metropolis, thoroughly eclipsed those Northern European winter celebrations that predated it, and became the inspiration and model for similar celebrations across the Northern Hemisphere" (Kinik, 2002, p.2). The Winter Carnival’s mainstay was its Ice Palace, which was constructed out of solid blocks of clear ice carved from the St. Lawrence River. The carnival developed over the next thirty years into one of the city’s most celebrated tourist attractions, and demonstrates significantly how the mytholo-gization of the winter became a central theme in Montréal’s transformation into a modern metropolis (ibid, p. 4).

22Montréal’s imaginary as a city of popular-festive celebration was further moulded by the Prohibition acts in the United States and much of Canada around 1920. In 1924, the Québec government took control of the province’s liquor sales, transforming Montréal into a prime destination for thirsty Americans. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, the era of cabarets, burlesque clubs, jazz clubs and variety theatre, the city developed the type of vibrant nightlife that comes with the culture of free-flowing liquor. Throughout this period, Montréal enjoyed more jazz music than any other Canadian city. Nevertheless, there was little to no connection between Montréal’s early jazz scene and the supposed invention of jazz in New Orleans. Jazz music spread northward in the decades following its emergence in the southern basin, following the migration of blacks through the recording studios of Chicago and New York’s Tin Pan Alley. And yet, not unlike the narratives of Storyville, the story of Montréal’s jazz scene is laced with tales of crime, corruption, gambling and prostitution - lucrative situations for musicians and showgirl dancers. In many ways, this period has been engraved into Montréal’s urban imaginary as the blooming period of Canada’s Sin City, and remains a part of Montréal’s place-myth as a city of festivity (Bélanger et Sumner, 2002 ; Gilmore, 1988 ; Lam, 1998 ; Stahl, 2001 ; Straw 1992 ; Weintraub, 1996).

23During the late 1950s and 1960s, Montréal’s new mayor, Jean Drapeau, initiated a broad crackdown on this culture of iniquity, once again transforming the face of Montréal and leading to the now legendary Expo 1967, a landmark in Montréal’s history of festivals and touted as "the most successful World’s Fair of the twentieth century". If Expo 67 highlighted Montréal’s status as an international city, it serves today to remind Montréalers of the prolonged economic slump into which the city slid in the years after the fair, indubitably highlighted by the overall failure of the 1976 Montréal Olympics (Germain, 2000 ; Kinik, 2002). In the last 20 years, however, Montréal has reinvented itself internationally as a city of festivals (Germain, 2000, p. 156). Importantly, as Anthony Kinik notes, "since the overwhelming majority of these festivals take place during Montréal’s relatively short but hot and humid summers, the city’s reinvention as a "city of festivals" has also meant its reinvention as a city of summer pleasures" (Kinik, 2002, p. 9). Montréal’s summer festivals, too numerous to list here, include the Festival Franco-Folies de Montréal, a festival celebrating francophone music from around the globe, the Festival Juste Pour Rire, a highly successful comedy festival, the Festival des films du monde, the Festival du théâtre des Amériques, and, of course, the Festival international de jazz de Montréal.

24In contrast to the New Orleans festival, the Festival international de jazz de Montréal has sought, since its initiation in 1980, to import various forms of music to Montréal. Since 1999, the State of Louisiana has played a dominant role in Montréal’s jazz festival. In each of the last three years, Louisiana invested up to $ 250 000 (US) in festival proceedings. The initial investment came in 1999, the year of Louisiana’s FrancoFête, which coincided conveniently with the 20th anniversary of the Montréal Festival. The Montréal Jazz Festival has taken place since its early years in and around the Place-des-Arts, between St. Catherine Street W. and de Maisonneuve Boulevard. Every night starting at 5 :00 pm for approximately 11 July days, the city blocks between St. Catherine and de Maisonneuve, and Jean-Mance and St-Urbain streets are blocked to traffic, and visitors are invited to mingle between a variety of stages and street performances. Of some 500 performances each year, approximately 350 are offered free to the public as street spectacles, ranging from small groups that play in and around the Place-des-Arts esplanade to spectacles showcased at larger venues. With Louisiana’s participation, a mixture of images of its musical tradition and authentic culture - both from New Orleans and from Cajun country - have been inscribed onto the landscape of this utopian inner city music village. To mark the onset of evening festivities, an "authentic" New Orleans marching band, the Original Pin Stripe Brass Band, led a daily "second-line" parade across the festival space, departing from St. Catherine Street and finishing in front of the Louisiana stage placed in a slightly obscure location on de Maisonneuve Boulevard. Five major concerts were scheduled with performers representing the major musical styles of Louisiana, including Harry Connick Jr. and his big band tour (which had to be cancelled due to a technician’s strike), the Branford Marsalis Quartett, Cajun star Zachary Richard, and a combined "Nuit de la Louisiane" featuring New Orleans R&B pianist Henry Butler, bluesman Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and the King of Zydeco, accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco. In addition, two daily tours of the St-Lawrence river were offered as an ersatz-Mississippi experience on a riverboat conveniently named La Nouvelle-Orléans. Departing from the Old Port and circling to the Boucherville islands, the riverboat showcased live performances ranging from soul and gospel singers and brass band music to Balfa Toujours, a popular Cajun band that claims to practice traditional music without preserving it "as if it were museum piece, but neither [changing] it purely for the sake of modernization" ( Six bands were showcased on the Louisiana stage itself. These ranged from Feufollet, a youth Cajun group from Lafayette that claims to uphold French musical heritage, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, a cajun-influenced group popular in Louisiana that is seen equally to mix tradition with R&B or swamp rock, and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, a contemporary Zydeco R&B group. The nine Louisiana bands that were officially showcased made up 20% of all performances at the festival. Every afternoon, smaller bands either from or representing New Orleans played in various locations of the festival grounds. The greatest representation of New Orleans music came from bands such as Streenix, Hot Pepper Dixie, Sweet Dixie, Le Dixieband, Bourbon Street, l’Esprit de la Nouvelle-Orleans and Aces of Dixieland, which were almost exclusively oriented to Dixieland jazz and were practically interchangeable. Along St. Catherine, the Louisiana Office of Tourism set up both information booths and "Gumbo Louisiana" food kiosks offering specialities such as Jambalaya, Hushpuppies, and "Crawfish étouffé". The Louisiana Office of Tourism claimed a resounding success, purporting that tourism from Québec increased in their estimation by 300%. With additional media coverage, Louisiana claimed to have garnered a total of $8 million in revenue.

25In the 2000 edition of the Festival, New Orleans figured more prominently than other areas of Louisiana (only 3 groups were from the smaller cities of Lafayette, Shreveport and Eunice). In organization, the proceedings were largely identical to the previous year with a daily marching band parade, riverboat cruises and a scattering of Dixieland performances throughout the festival grounds. While the focus of the 2000 edition of the Festival was Brazilian music, much of the festival, including numerous paid ticket performances to Louisiana music concerts, was dedicated to the 100th birthday of Louis Armstrong. As in 1999, Louisiana music, food and tourist advertising targeted an estimated 1.5 million revellers in Montréal streets, not including the additional reach of media coverage.

26The Festival renewed its partnership with Louisiana once again in 2001. Responding in part to criticism that the Gumbo Louisiane stage was not located centrally enough, festival organisers created a "Quartier Louisiane" down the St. Catherine street corridor. The Louisiana stage was placed prominently in front of the Complexe Desjardins, and the Parade de la Louisiane was reversed to cross Place-des-Arts ending at the bottom of its sweeping steps. At the kiosk "Gumbo Louisiane, le goût de la Louisiane", chef Dwight Landreneau prepared a number of ostensible Cajun and Créole fast-food dishes, while everyday at the Wyndham hotel, chef René Bajeux prepared a full Louisiana menu. The band Feufollet returned to host the evening boat cruise, this year on the more accommodating "Cavalier Maxim" riverboat. Only one band, paradoxically the Zydeco group Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters, originated from New Orleans. Besides the daytime shows offered by and large by the same Dixieland brass bands as in the previous two years, showcased Louisiana bands in 2001 represented Franco-Louisiana music, soul, R&B and blues to a greater degree than other forms associated with "traditional jazz" of New Orleans proper. A Louisiana Gospel Brunch was added to the last day of the schedule, which took place in the adjacent Complexe Desjardins.

27For the architects of the Québec-Louisiana initiative, the grafting of a New Orleans/Louisiana festive image onto Montréal’s downtown had self-explanatory, if unconvincing, roots. According to Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, "there is a natural affinity between us and this region of Canada. We share the same love of music, food and in many cases, the same last names" (Louisiana Entertains Record Crowds at Montréal Jazz Festival, 2000, p.1). In a similar vein, then Québec Minister of Tourism, Maxime Arseneau, claimed : "We have one million Acadian people living in Québec state […] I am a Cajun myself. All the Arseneau are descended from one man who move to Québec (from France) in 1671. We are all the same origin and from one family (Québec-Louisiana Strengthen Culture, Heritage Bonds, 1999, p. 1). Philip J. Jones, the head of Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, echoed these sentiments : "We’re working to raise Canadians’ awareness of Louisiana and we’re using our natural links - the lifestyle that we share with our cousins in Québec. There is such a natural link between Québec and Louisiana. The people are fun-loving, they have great food, and they have similar attitudes" (Québec Builds Cultural Ties With Louisiana, 2000, p. 2). David Jobin, the director for the Festival’s 1999 exterior programming, similarly described his ambition as a focus on roots :

"Focus sur les racines […]. On a cherché quel lien les Québécois pouvaient avoir avec les musiques louisianaises. Or le lien se trouve dans la musique cajun et le zydeco, deux genres qui possèdent un vieux fond de langue française" (Laurence, 1999).

28Jonathan Tabak, a journalist for New Orleans’ Offbeat magazine, described the naturalness with which New Orleans music was received at the 1999 edition of the festival :

"Let it rain, let it storm ! This was the chant led by The Original Pin Stripe Brass Band as drops began to fall on the elated crowd jamming the street. But this wasn’t a New Orleans street parade or the New Orleans Jazz Fest, where you would expect to see such unfettered dancers, spurred by the sizzling second line beat and funk horns and welcoming the rain as mere lubrication for the soul. This was Montréal, Canada, site of the 20th edition of the Montréal International Jazz Festival. […] Closed off to traffic, the streets teemed with French Canadians of all ages and hues, tourists from all over the world, and a few foreign journalists like this writer" (Tabak, 1999, p. 2).

29Tabak, however, went on to question the presentation of Louisiana music at such world events in more objective terms. His fear, like that of many supporters of Louisiana’s culture, was that such commercialization of Louisiana music would cause widespread stereotyping of the state’s cultural dynamism, reducing it to the clichéd place-image of New Orleans illustrated in the first part of this article :

"The real fear is that Festival producers, under pressure to pander to audience expectations, will only bring in retro, black entertainers for New Orleans, reinforcing the idea that our music is merely a quaint folk expression rather than a living breathing art form that continues to influence the entire music world. […] There is also the fear that Louisiana artists themselves will pander to expectations, allowing their own identity to be swallowed up by the larger New Orleans identity" (ibid.).

30Nevertheless, Tabak agreed that Montréal’s festival "managed to transcend these clichés, showcasing a wide diversity of Louisiana music in a variety of presentation formats" (ibid.). Such examples demonstrate a distinction between those concerned with Louisiana’s representation in terms of its musical authenticity and continued innovation, and those who wish to assert largely fabricated cultural links between the francophone areas.


31Taken together, the representations of Louisiana music in Montréal’s Jazz Festival between 1999 and 2001 provide a framework that links the place-image of New Orleans as the founder of jazz to Montréal’s festival scene, but within a logic of tourism that attempts to recreate an affinity between francophone histories of Louisiana and Québec culture. My initial investigation into images encompassing the origins of jazz music in New Orleans, and the often contradictory commercialised discourses of authenticity and tradition that pervade other areas of Louisiana, allows us to question how these representations merge with the imaginary of Montréal as a creative city with a loose nightlife, where these authenticities and traditions find an environment in which they can be truthfully celebrated. Newspaper reviews of Louisiana’s presence at the Montréal Festival, without being overly prescriptive, consistently implicate Montréal as some form of New Orleans of the North, where the St-Lawrence River substitutes for the Mississippi and the festival quarter transforms into a version of New Orleans’ French Quarter. As outlined above, historical ties between Louisiana and Québec are weak at best (even the deportation of Francophones from Acadia actually accounted for only a portion of the French-speakers who made up French Louisiana), and economic links have been negligible. Nevertheless, the city-as-sign representation of Montréal as a city of festivals has facilitated an imaginary structure of cultural ties between these regions, eliciting a sense of affinity that clearly resonates with the search for authenticity and tradition and the perseverance of folk culture. Zachary Richard, possibly the most prominent advocate for the preservation of Franco-Louisiana culture, embodies such a desire through imagery of collapsed space between Québec and Louisiana in his poem Français d’Amérique (suite) :

32Les mêmes goélands de la

33 même couleur grise qui tachent

34 les bords du Saint-Laurent tachent

35Les bords du Mississippi.

36 quelques jours de vol,

37 quelques semaines à la voile,

38Parmi les icebergs fondues de notre mélancolie,

39 le courage, l’ivresse de cette promesse

40 de bourgeon tenue au bout des frênes et des planes,

41Sur les plaines d’Abraham,

42 la sève qui nous donne

43 de l’espoir."

44(Richard, 2001, p.111)

45According to socio-demographic statistics collected by the Festival and supported by 1996 Census data from Statistics Canada, participants in both outdoor street events and indoor events are primarily francophone, while all other languages groups account for less than 20% of people surveyed (reported in the Festival’s 2001 Rapport de synthèse for Louisiana). With these statistics in mind, I would question whether the touristic discourse of authenticity and tradition implicated by the celebration of Franco-Louisiana music resonates rather with the festival’s predominantly Franco-Québécois audience within the discourses of Québec nationalism. For this audience, the New Orleans place-image becomes more than commercial spectacle. Indeed, the Québec-Louisiana initiative is clearly targeted to convince Québécois Francophones to visit Louisiana, a fact to which full-page French-only advertisements in each year’s mostly bilingual Festival programme attest. Consequently, the celebration of New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz, on the one hand, and the consolidation of Franco-Louisiana culture in carnivalesque representations of music, dance and food on the other would seem, in the context of the jazz festival, to evoke tensions between Montréal’s urban imaginary as a creative, pluralistic society and the broader francophone support for linguistic and cultural preservation that permeates Québec’s national discourse.

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Pour citer cet article

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Michael Darroch, « New Orleans in Montréal : The Cradle of Jazz in the City of Festivals », Géocarrefour, Vol. 78/2 | 2003, 129-137.

Référence électronique

Michael Darroch, « New Orleans in Montréal : The Cradle of Jazz in the City of Festivals », Géocarrefour [En ligne], Vol. 78/2 | 2003, mis en ligne le 05 juin 2007, consulté le 15 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/geocarrefour.212

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Michael Darroch

McGill University (Montréal)
Department of Art
History and Communications Studies
Mc Gill University
Montreal, QC
853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest
H3A 2T6
E-mail : mdarroch(at)sympatico[point]ca

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