New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.

Funding Received: 2012
New Orleans, LA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 26, 2013

Construction continues on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center

We’re continuing to make progress on construction of the Jazz & Heritage Center. The back part of the former funeral home—built as a series of add-ons in the 1950s—has been torn down to make room for a state of the art performance hall. This week, we’ll begin pile driving to lay the foundation for the 200-seat hall. The front, historic half of the building—built in the late 19th century—has been largely gutted and will be rebuilt using the best in acoustical design and materials. We’ll need the best industry practices to handle seven full classrooms of music students!

During construction, workers found old ledger books for funeral ceremonies behind one of the walls. The papers, dating back to 1896, show the costs of a 19th century New Orleans funeral from the casket ($90) to the death certificate (50 cents). The ledgers will find a good home in the University of New Orleans archives, where they will join an extensive collection of other funeral home materials.

Recent Wins
-       The Jazz & Heritage Foundation received praise from the Times-Picayune and Gambit for its Community Partnership Grants, which gave out small grants to 184 organizations in early October.

-       The Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, presented by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation and taking place October 18th-20th, has received some good press. This article from the Times-Picayune focuses on the Festival’s showcasing of regional barbeque styles.

-       Just down the road from us the Arts Council of New Orleans will be starting a youth arts program at the Treme Community Center. Their program will focus on visual arts, which will be great for the neighborhood.

We’ve been thinking a lot about what happens when creative placemaking takes place within historic structures and how the past can be honored while updating a space for current use. Specifically for the Jazz & Heritage Center, that includes acknowledging the building’s long history as a funeral home. It may seem morbid to connect the building’s past as a funeral home with its future as a school of music for young people. But it’s important to remember the proud New Orleans tradition of the jazz funeral, where music is played along the route from the funeral home or church to the burial grounds. Music turns from somber to celebratory along the way, ending in a spirited celebration filled with music and dance in the New Orleans streets.

One person who captured the jazz funeral was Jules Cahn. A local businessman with a passion for New Orleans music and culture, Cahn chronicled the funerals with photos and videos throughout the latter half of the 20th century. When Cahn passed away in 1995, his viewing was held at the very funeral home we are now renovating. We’ve worked with his family to arrange an exhibit of his photographs and video footage at the opening of the Jazz & Heritage Center in Summer 2014. With Cahn’s media on display as the Center opens its doors, we will be able to pay tribute to the location’s rich and vibrant history even as we transition to a new use.