03 October 2022

The lively French Quarter of New Orleans
Getting musical in New Orleans
Dea Birkett and her actress daughter Storme Toolis head to the Big Easy for theatrical inspiration
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e're swinging along to the rhythm, heads nodding and feet tapping. I'm with my 21-year-old daughter, actress Storme Toolis, as a jazz band plays in the Spotted Cat in New Orleans. It's utterly intoxicating. This isn't Storme's usual beat - she's more Lady Gaga than Fats Waller. But in the BBC crime series New Tricks, her character, Holly Griffiths, is a jazz fan, so we've come to New Orleans for some inspiration.

We began our musical journey on a walking tour around the French Quarter. First, our guide Milton gave us a lesson in how to talk like a local. New Orleans is pronounced as one long, slow, slurred word - Nawleens. And everyone calls you 'baby'. The city is a heady mix of Creole and Cajun, black and white, the privileged and dispossessed, which lent jazz its unique sound.
Jazz music can be heard from every street in New Orleans, no more so than on famous Bourbon Street
One of the must-visit venues: The Spotted Cat Music Club
for the improvised bands stationed on each street corner. Music was happening inside every property too: a trumpet's blast from Basin Street bars, the tinkling of chandeliers from the opulent antique stores in Royal Street, and a long slow note from a trombone from behind the painted wooden shutters of a plantation house. Jumping into a taxi, jazz from one of the local radio stations was blaring out.

Our driver asked: 'Do you like jazz?' Then, without waiting for an answer, he added: 'Of course! Everyone does!' Storme didn't. She wasn't keen on going to Preservation Hall, dedicated to preserving traditional jazz since 1961, but Milton persuaded her by explaining that in the 1920s, jazz was the sound of youth - parents and newspapers were up in arms at this new-fangled music. In Nawleens, Milton said, it's not just old guys blowing their own trumpets - cool kids do it too. There weren't any kids playing during our visit to Preservation Hall but the music, tinged with sadness, stole our hearts nonetheless.

That night they played the same sad tunes in Arnaud's, a lovely, luscious restaurant with its own Petit Theatre attached. The jazz trio serenaded Storme with What A Wonderful World, and I watched as her anti-jazz heart melted. We spent our final night at the Spotted Cat. As we headed back to our accommodation, a dozen young men in hoodies, bobble hats and thick fleece jogging pants were outside giving their all on clarinet, trumpets, saxophone and tuba. After a week in New Orleans, Storme was into a whole new groove. The city had made her fall in love with jazz.

Original article published in July 2016. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Strolling past the bars of Bourbon Street down to Jackson Square on the Mississippi riverfront was like walking through a never-ending openair concert. The sounds of the horse-drawn carriages' squeaky wooden wheels and trotting hooves were percussion
"After a week in New Orleans, the city had made her fall in love with jazz."
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