The Oldest Jazz Pub in New Orleans

Anyone visiting New Orleans knows to hit up Bourbon Street. And if you’ve ever actually made it there, you’ll know that it’s a total shit show every night of the week. Bourbon Street is one of those magical places where the streets smell like piss, there are tons of people around you at all times and everyone is drinking outside, and yet you still somehow feel like a celebrity as people yell down to you from balconies and throw beads your way. I can’t even imagine how crazy this place is around Mardis Gras time, but I have heard stories. Tip for going to Bourbon Street on Mardis Gras – wear shoes you don’t care about, because they will get destroyed in 2.5 seconds of walking.

As you walk down the street, there are people standing outside of every jazz bar paid to solicit you into the bar, whether with drink coupons or just sheer southern charm. If you haven’t done your research, it’s pretty easy to get enticed into nearly any spot on the street. But my recommendation to you is to keep walking until you get about 8 blocks down, where you’ll find Fritzel’s, the oldest jazz pub in New Orleans.

In any other city, Fritzel’s would be considered one of those grimy yet charming hole-in-the-wall joints with a charming French-style, twinkle-lit brick patio in the back. But of course what takes it to that next level is small stage placed smack dab in the middle of everything where jazz players from all over the country congregate and jam together, without any preparation ahead of time. Unlike the other jazz pubs, the music in Fritzel’s is not a performance, it’s an immersive experience. We just happened to be shooed right into the front row, but even three rows back you would still have that trombone right in your face.

Being so small and intimate, Fritzel’s is the place to go to really experience good jazz music. The players often take recommendations from the audience, as they’re mostly just picking songs as they go anyway. And halfway through, there’s an intermission where everyone grabs a drink and you get a chance to sit and chat with some of the players.

Richard Scott Pianist
Photo Cred: richardpianoscott.com

My fiance and I sat with the pianist, whose fingers were like fire moving so fast with the music it was hard to look away. He turned out to be a pretty famous jazz player of both the piano and trombone, Richard Scott, who told us all about how he was born in Virginia and started playing piano at age 4, and traveled all over the place to do shows. He was actually only in New Orleans for the weekend and explained to us about how musicians just signed up for different nights of the week if they wanted to play, and then whoever showed up was your band for the night.

“The beauty of jazz,” he said, “is that once you know how to play it, you really can pick it up and play together easily even if you don’t know what song you’re playing.”

I loved hearing about this, and actually took the liberty of looking up “jam session,” only to find out that it originated from jazz music in the 1920s (sorry Phishheads). The term came about when white and black players would congregate after their regular gigs to play the jazz they couldn’t play in their “Paul Whiteman” style bands. When Bing Crosby would join on these sessions, people would say he was “jammin’ the beat” as he clapped on the one and the three beat. Thus, jam sessions were born and became more and more popular, especially in New York during World War II.

And now, after hours in New Orleans, you can find jam sessions happening every night of the week at Fritzel’s. If you want a really good experience of jazz music, I urge you to check it out.

2016: A New Year of Travel

Happy New Year! It has officially been a week since we were all preparing to countdown to 2016, with that fiery motivation to have a better year burning in our hearts. As an effort to hold onto the momentum (and inspire you to do the same), I’ve decided to put together a new list of resolutions, just for Cleaving Leaveland and traveling.

Goals to Carry Into 2016

1. Be Where I Am. This was a hard one for me last year for a few reasons. The first is that when I packed up to leave New York City and embark on two years of traveling the US, I left behind a very strong and empowering community of friends. Even when I ended up in places like Seattle where I made a lot of strong friendships, I found it difficult to appreciate them because my eyes were always looking at my friends in New York. The second reason it was so difficult to be present was that I kept getting let down thinking I was going to end up in one place and job opportunities, or lack thereof, put me in another place entirely. But when missing out on living in Austin meant opening up my eyes to the amazingness of Seattle, I realized that my disappointment had been a waste of time and energy. This is an adventure after all. Which leads me to my next goal…

2. Keep An Open Mind. Traveling is not really an exploration if I have a locked mindset of where I want to be and what I want to see. Last year I was hoping to get to Austin and instead went to Seattle, which quickly became my favorite city in the US. Just this January I had hoped to end up in New Orleans, and instead I’m off to Long Beach, CA. I have only been to Long Beach once in my life and I mostly spent my time there partying in a college house. This is going to be a whole new adventure for me. I was really hoping to do some ghost tours, take piano lessons, and see some alligators in the south, but maybe I’ll take a surfing lesson or two instead. Last year I was not a happy camper to end up in Phoenix, but it ended up being one of the most transformative 3 months for me in my travels. So this year I plan to keep an open mind, and go wherever the wind (and jobs) take me.

3. Stop Watching TV. Okay, so I don’t really plan to stop watching all TV all the time. But I have been sitting on this one for a while. Then recently I saw a video of Obama talking to school-aged children about what it means to have a family. One of the more profound statements he made was that if you come home, and you sit in front of the TV watching a show or playing video games, then you’re not really there – you’re checked out. If watching TV is not helping me to “be where I am,” then it’s time to cut it out of my daily routine.

4. Run Outside Often. Or take walks. I like to run for exercise, and I’ve found that taking care of my health outdoors has led me to come across places I would have never explored otherwise (like the crystal shop in Seattle or my favorite independent bookstore in Phoenix). So I’m going to get outside often, whether with running, biking, or just taking a walk.

5. Record More. This is different than writing more, for me. I want to start really recording what I love about places, especially on the blog. Taking notes on the best Pho I found in Seattle or the cutest Bed and Breakfast I happened upon in Pennsylvania will add richer illustration to the map of my travels, and may come in handy as I revisit places later.

So my list only has 5 goals for blogging and traveling, but I’m hoping that keeping it short and simple will help me accomplish them more thoroughly. I have other personal goals of course (take another class, volunteer, pass less judgment on others), but this list should be enough to take my travels and Cleaving Leaveland to the next level. As some of you will know, I’m engaged to get married in late summer of 2017, so this will be my last full year of traveling. I plan to take it to the fullest. Come with me and enjoy the ride!