"No neon lights; only plain wooden signs to designate a dozen music clubs in the greatest concentration of live music venues outside the French Quarter."
Introducing Frenchmen Street, a two-block--long musical enclave where the “locals” hang out. "An entertain-ment district where, on any given night of the week--including normally dead Mondays--you can hear live sounds and a wide variety of music as only New Orleans musicians can perform" (neworleansonline.com).
Frenchmen Street is only steps away from the French Quarter. Cross Esplanade Avenue at Decatur Street and you are there. Our "there" was one of the most authentic New Orleans music venues for live jazz--Snug Harbor (photo above).
The club features a dining room and full-service Creole menu, a wood and exposed-brick bar room, and a split-level music room with cabaret seating for 90.
After a brief wait in line in the bar, we reached the Will Call window for our tickets.
"Sit as close to the stage as you can. If the bar gets noisy, those in the back of the room have a hard time hearing some of the performance. If you go upstairs, sit near the front of the balcony, because some of the seats in the back have a blocked view of the stage," was the helpful advice from the person at the window. "And please, no photographs during the performance."
We were fortunate to get tickets to hear the Ellis Marsalis quartet, one of the regular performers at the club.
He and his music seemed perfect for this intimate setting. He opened with "Emily." His elegant styling of this classic song was demonstrated by his soft touch on the piano keys. Every note was struck with the silky smoothness of a master.
He followed this with
"Sweet Georgia Brown," and a couple of Herbie Hancock compositions, among others.
Snug Harbor has been described as "the classiest jazz club in New Orleans" (The New York Times), and the presence of 77-year-old Ellis Marsalis, one of classiest jazz musicians, seemed an ideal complement to the setting.
Maybe I've been watching too many old movies featuring jazz musicians, but this evening was meant for listening to a skilled musician in a "musical landmark" (Rolling Stone), so black and white photos seemed to emphasize the experience and not the visual range of colors.
Snug Harbor is the city's premier showcase for contem-porary jazz. Here, jazz is presented as it should be: part entertain-ment, part art, and often, part intellectual stimulation.
Hurricane Katrina forced a temporary closure, and its closure was noted as a significant blow to the jazz heritage of New Orleans. The club succeeded in reopening a few months later, and continues to be an important venue in the regional jazz scene.