NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In the city where jazz was born, you can see and hear its history in an expanded state museum. The old U.S. Mint, now the New Orleans Jazz Museum, features live performances along with treasured jazz artifacts.
This museum goes way beyond static displays to tell the history of an American artform. In this museum, jazz is live.
National park ranger James Barry leads a jazz quartet in a free-wheeling session of jazz standards and improvisation.
"And I definitely never thought I would be a park ranger, let alone a jazz park ranger. Well there are four park rangers here that are musicians, and as far as we know, we are the only park rangers that are musicians first in the world," Barry said.
The mid-week afternoon performance by this jazz group is free to museum visitors. On other days, you can hear different performers or take part in a jazz Pilates exercise group. The shows are informal.
"We like to break down the boundary between the musicians and the audience and get a little a chance for the audience to interact with the musicians and find out not only what's going on onstage, but what is life like as a musician in this city," Barry said.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum has transformed into a major museum at the old U.S. Mint building in the French Quarter.
"In the last two years we've been expanding it to, to take up the entire building here," said Greg Lambousy. "And so now we're doing regular exhibits. We just opened a new exhibit on Professor Longhair."
In addition to hearing the musical performances on this stage, the museum also features the original instruments that were played by some of New Orleans' most renowned musicians.
"We have one of Fats Domino's pianos, one of the Steinway pianos here, and the piano that Professor Longhair - among many great pianists - played at Tipitina's," Lambousy said. "We have the cornet that Louis Armstrong learned to play on, it was what he had at the Wafe's home."
And there is a room full of memorabilia of the jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain. You see instruments of other early jazz pioneers and some of the outstanding women of jazz.
"I hope they go home thinking about it a little bit differently, understanding that jazz really was a huge transition in the world," Barry said.
"And it really has influenced world music and influenced, you know, R&B, rock and roll and country and everything you can think of that's modern," Lambousy said.
It's a creative blend of ethnic rhythms and melodies that was born here more than a century ago and still echoes through the streets of New Orleans.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum is part of the state museum system and is open six days a week. It's closed on Mondays.