Every Wednesday, the New Orleans Jazz Market opens its doors to singers, musicians, and music lovers alike for its signature open mic Wednesday. From 10 pm to 1 am, budding musical acts perform covers, original songs, and spoken word much to the delight of the audience. Although the free event is heavily dominated by college-age students, people of all ages pack the Jazz Market’s exhibition space, finding space on the steps, in doorways, and even on the floor.
The New Orleans Jazz Market is situated in the Central City neighborhood at the corner of Oretha Castle Haley and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards. In the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Central City served as a safe place for Black musicians who were barred from the notable venues in the French Quarter. The historic neighborhood is home to a range of businesses aimed at preserving and strengthening New Orleans culture such as: the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, the Dryades Public Market, and the Youth Empowerment Project. By opening its doors to the public every Wednesday night, the Jazz Market effortlessly preserves and promotes the rich musical culture of the Central City neighborhood.
When you arrive at the jazz market, be prepared to submit all five of your senses to a delight. Grab a bowl of fresh fruit or one of the creative tacos for sale by the food vendors outside before stepping inside and being blown away by the up and coming artist serenading the crowd. Once you’re in, stop by the Bolden Bar for a creative cocktail blend. If you’re able to weave through the crowd, find a seat on the steps where you’ll be able to see everything from the art vendors to the band to the eccentric outfits people wear in one turn of the head. While most artists perform covers of popular songs and invite the crowd to join in, others debut original works, but fear not--they feed the crowd the words so they can join along too. Make sure you pay attention to the end of each artists’ set because they’re most likely to drop their social media handles for you to hear more of their music.
On any given night, audience members at the Jazz Market indulge in comedian and host DC Paul’s off-the-cuff stand-up, creative eats from local food vendors, one-of-a-kind clothing, jewelry, and accessories from local artists all while listening to talented performers. While there are many “regulars” who grace the stage each week, no Wednesday night has the exact same lineup as the last. Artists arrive as early as 9 pm to put their name on the sign-up list in hopes of attracting a new social media platform, connecting with other artists, showcasing their talent. The intimate setting makes it easy for visual and performing artists alike to connect with each other.
Each performance at the Jazz Market feels like a living room talent show for both the performer and the audience. Once everyone recognizes the first few chords of a song, they turn to their friends in excitement, then back to the artist to see what spin they’ll put on the classic before joining in on the chorus. Songs by Alicia Keys, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Kirk Franklin, Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott and many more get reworked, remixed, and revamped by the talented crop of artists that brave the stage. As if instinctually, the crowd becomes resident backup singers, dancers, and hype men for the artist on stage. It’s impossible to sit passively as an entire room of strangers becomes friends and a new artist finds their groove on the stage.
A performance at the Jazz Market is not just a step into the spotlight for the artist, but also a community experience for everyone present. It’s not unlikely to see a college-age student swinging and singing next to someone’s grandmother. Strangers become friends and friends strengthen their bonds through belting out their favorite classics while munching on food from the community. The Jazz Market’s open mic nights embody the very essence of the Central City neighborhood; it allows for music, art, and culinary lovers to indulge in all three aspects while providing a safe and comfortable space for the artists on stage. The end of the night always results in people lingering inside the Jazz Market following each other on social media and exchanging contact information before an impromptu jam session continues outside. The Jazz Market is proof that the creative and musical culture of New Orleans will never die as long as we work to preserve it.
Photos by Johnny Henderson of JHE Media LLC