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    January 27, 1997


    (CNN) -- From Dixieland jazz to more contemporary music, New Orleans, Louisiana, is never in short supply of world-class entertainment or celebrations that draw crowds by the thousands. The "Big Easy" can be as fast-paced and rambunctious, or as soothing and mellow, as a visitor likes.

    Wise travelers will take note of the most festive seasons and plan their trips accordingly (whether to hit or miss). This city is steeped in rich traditions, like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and visitors will find no reprieve from the local's annual celebrations.

    The French Quarter is the heart and soul of the Crescent City, and it's true this part of town never really goes to sleep. As avid partiers know, New Orleans is the only U.S. city, besides Las Vegas, that has a "no close" law.

    Throughout the Quarter, first-time visitors are greeted by lively crowds, as the inescapable tones of the city's renowned jazz intermingle with the sweet smell of beignets and chicory coffee.

    New Orleans will forever be remembered as the city where the distinctive sound of classical jazz grew up. Classical jazz developed in the late 19th century and was influenced by many cultures, from African rhythms and European harmonies to early American band traditions.

    Today, jazz in the "Big Easy" consists of traditional rhythms, as well as more modern sounds such as bebop and zydeco. Traditional jazz in New Orleans refers to that first jazz, the style that evolved there sometime around the turn of the century, which is why it's often called "New Orleans-style jazz."

    Every spring, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival draws music lovers southbound for seven days of soulful entertainment. In 1996, Van Morrison, Joan Osborne, Phish, the Dave Matthews Band and The Neville Brothers were some of the live acts featured at the New Orleans Fair Grounds. In 1997, the 28th annual fest will be held from April 25 to May 4.

    Trivia buffs may be shocked to discover the world's first jazz festival was not held in New Orleans, or even in the jazz meccas of St. Louis or Chicago. Surprisingly, Newport, Rhode Island, was the site of the first jazzfest in 1954 and the northeastern festival is still in full swing every August.

    Though many visit New Orleans just to savor the sounds of its notable musicians, mentioning the Crescent City and night life would be unthinkable without paying due respect to Mardi Gras, the city's yearly blow-out.

    Mardi Gras is actually the culmination of Carnival, a season of marathon celebrations beginning on the Epiphany or Twelfth Night in January. Carnival consists of weeks of festivities and days of extravagant parades leading up to Mardi Gras.

    Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, will be held on February 11 in 1997. It always falls on the Tuesday that is 46 days before the religious celebration of Easter and the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent.

    New Orleanians' pre-Lenten celebrations date back to the late 1700s. However the art of street masking was not legalized until 1827, and the first documented parade didn't occur until a decade later. In 1972, purple, green and gold were chosen as the official colors of Carnival to signify justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold).

    If a trip to New Orleans doesn't fit into your 1997 schedule, the Mardi Gras dates for the rest of the century are: February 24, 1998; February 16, 1999; and March 7, 2000.

    And one of the luxuries of a trip to New Orleans: No matter when you come, you won't miss the celebration.

    Weather: New Orleans
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    Related stories:

  • Down on the Bayou (New Orleans overview) - January 25, 1997

    Related sites:

  • New Orleans Jazz Festival
  • N.O.Net: Sounds
  • Jazz Central Station
  • Jazz Times
  • Marsalis on Music
  • Jazz Artists - Search

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