Tag Archives: Chicago

For the love of jazz

As some of you may know, this past summer I travelled across the US by train making stops in cities as I went. In a two week long trip I visited five cities so, as you may expect, this resulted in almost whistle-stop experiences in these cities, with certain elements of the places having more of an effect than others. In Chicago and New Orleans that effects was music, more specifically – jazz.

I have never been much of a jazz enthusiast. Honestly, I think something gets lost between the transfer of the live act and the recorded product. All I had heard, if I’m being honest, when I listened to recorded jazz was a lot of noise and different instruments doing their own thing. Listening to jazz live though – that is something else entirely.

The stage at the Millennium Park.
The stage at the Millennium Park.

In Chicago I caught the beginning of a jazz festival. This is when the love began – sitting in the Millennium Park, having the music wash over me. The festival was an international one, and the band were from South Africa. They had amazing songs about Nelson Mandela, sung by singers with such beautiful voices and the music was so… smooth. They were just practising – the festival started properly the next day, these were the free practice sessions – but that made it even more exhilarating; they would try different things, not playing it safe, going off the script, laughing together if it went a bit wrong. The whole atmosphere was just so chilled, and there was such a wide variety of people gathered, from kids chasing each other around to old couples sitting together, holding hands.

These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.
These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.

But nothing in Chicago could prepare me for New Orleans. I love this city. Frenchmen’s Street is one of my favourite streets in the world. Unlike Bourbon Street which is insane (and more than a bit disgusting), Frenchman’s is a lot more relaxed, with cool little bars, small clubs and markets where you can buy trinkets and artwork. Yet, what I absolutely loved was how there was just amazing music playing on the streets, with crowds gathered around the musicians, so close to the artists. There was one group, my favourite, that even had a tuba player – I hate to think where he lived to have to drag that with him all the time. The music just brought everyone together, and seemed to give the city an incredibly relaxed feel. Jazz could be found everywhere – I saw jazz musicians by the river, in the market place, in burrito restaurants; the music happily invaded the city.

My time in America – in these two cities especially – has made me love jazz (live jazz, I still can’t quite love the recorded version). I would love to go back to both cities for longer than just a few days (and with more money!) so I could spend more time hunting for smaller, more intimate settings in Chicago instead of a music festival, and find the really crazy jazz in New Orleans, where people just let go completely and play something truly amazing and unique. Until then, however, I’ll just have to search out jazz at home, and anywhere else I travel.

How do you feel about jazz? Do you think there’s a difference between the live and recorded final piece? Let me know!

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Best U.S. Cities

Straight up, I should point out that the only city in America where I spent longer than 3 days was Los Angeles, and that was because I was working there for 3 months. L.A. was not my favourite city however, not by a long shot. While I may not have been able to spend as much time in my favourites (as are detailed below) as I would have liked, they certainly left an impression on me and I would love to go back for more.

Chicago

I immediately liked Chicago because it had such an amazing atmosphere. It was so laid back and chilled, and everyone I met was lovely. I was in Chicago during the run up to the city being host to a giant jazz festival, so the hostels were full (and more expensive – why I didn’t stay longer) the streets were busy and the music really good. I really discovered jazz in Chicago (and got more involved in New Orleans, more on that later). Before America I hadn’t realised just how good jazz could be as I had never heard it live. I have now decided that it is music that needs to be heard live because it sounds just awesome. Also, I would go back just for the pizza. Amazing.

Washington D.C.

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There is so much to do in Washington D.C. that you just can’t be bored. Aside from L.A., I was in D.C. for the longest amount of time and could have comfortably spent another week, even a week and a half there. I went to so many museums, toured Congress, saw the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial… I walked by the Potomac river both in the day and as the sun was setting, stopped by the White House, explored Chinatown and got some good chow mein. I did so much but there was so much more to do! I didn’t get to see all the museums, or where Lincoln was shot, or the Vietnam War Memorial, nor the wider city of D.C. If you’re looking for a holiday destination this year where you can soak in culture until you explode, Washington D.C. is your destination.

New Orleans

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New Orleans is just so cool. I was there during a huge gay pride event and so I’m not sure if Bourbon Street is like that all the time, but that place was crazy. I was a much bigger fan of Frenchman’s, a lot more chilled out and relaxed, with good jazz streaming out the windows of clubs, or being performed right there on the street. I would describe New Orleans as Paris crossed with Coventry (hear me out) – it has the beauty of the French capital, as well as obviously being hugely influenced by French style in general, while having the run down, slightly grimy, ‘but don’t you dare judge us’ quality of Coventry. It’s a fun city where beautiful universities contrast with the eerie cemeteries (featured image) which are only a few miles away. I didn’t get to go to Algiers, but I’m sure that it would have allowed a whole new plethora of contradictions. Definitely a city worth visiting, if only because everyone will be so jealous you’ve been there!

What are your favourite American cities? Would these three make your list? Let me know.