Who woulda thunk that New Orleans is the musical home to a U.S. National Park. But it is, under the auspices of the National Park Service, called the “New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.” It is surprising how so many visitors and even locals we encountered had no idea a national park music program exists right in the French Quarter, even though its concerts are always listed on music calendars. We nearly missed it ourselves a number of years ago when enjoying a holiday break in New Orleans. It was the intoxicating sound of swinging jazz that attracted us like bees to honey slightly off the beaten path. That’s when we stumbled into the Park Service office and by chance one of the (nearly) daily free concerts and programs (sometimes more than one a day).
So on a recent trip back to New Orleans, the first thing we did was complete a little research to see what the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park had to offer. The event list is detailed, including shows and educational music programs at both the main office at 916 N. Peters St. (across from the French Market) and the Old U.S. Mint just down the street from there. Jazz Yoga, jazz vocals, school bands, spiritual jazz, even the so-called “Jazz Park Rangers” jam for your pleasure. Did we say “free” yet?
We honed in on an inspiring program in the small theater at the Old U.S. Mint with Ranger Matt Hampsey – one that fused jazz standards with Afro Caribbean rhythms. The hour-long gig with explanations about some of the music included percussionist Hubie Vigreux, saxophonist Robin Boudreaux, bassist (and vocalist) Mike Harris, trombonist John DeLatouche, and drummer Joe Stolarick. And, yes, Ranger Matt wears his uniform!