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American Routes Shortcuts: 4th of July with Nick Spitzer

Irma Thomas
American Routes

This Independence Day weekend, we celebrate the cultural minglings in New Orleans, whose unparalleled diversity gave birth to some of the most revolutionary sounds in American music. We’ll go live at the French Quarter Festival to hear music that expresses what Americans share culturally. On this special Fourth of July program, Nick Spitzer reflects on jazz as one of the great American freedom statements.  


Nick Spitzer: On July 4th weekend, American Routes comes to you from the French Quarter Festival as we celebrate our independence and patriotism by honoring a plural democratic nation of many cultures. Jazz expresses what Americans share culturally.  New Orleans traditional jazz especially displays values of tradition, creativity, inclusion and citizenship. 

NS: Jazz is one of the great American freedom statements with African, Caribbean, European and American sources. The music took root at the turn of the century in New Orleans. After the parade music, spirituals, blues and popular songs all got jazzed up, John Phillip Souza never seemed the same. The birth of jazz was lead by African Americans and Creoles of many colors as a declaration of independence, citizenship and pleasure, partly in resistance to the prevailing Jim Crow social order of the 20th century. 

NS: Writer Ralph Ellison referred to jazz as African Americans’ Constitution and Bill of Rights. In our city today, the music still brings people into the streets to mourn everyday folks and fallen heroes, like Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Leah Chase, Dr. John and Dave Bartholomew–all great cultural citizens that we’ve lost.  Jazz resolves sorrow in death and joy in life, and is a pleasure for its own sake on the second line.

NS: Before 9/11, in less politically divided times, I had the good fortune to present the American Roots 4th of July each year for nearly a decade at the Washington Monument to a huge and diverse audience, broadcast live on NPR.  We included players like Carl Perkins with Elvis’ band, Gatemouth Brown, the Texas Playboys, Shirley Caesar, Tito Puente, Rebirth Brass, Charles Brown, Boozoo Chavis and many more. That run of shows on Independence Day in Washington was the roots of American Routes.   

NS: This 4th of July weekend we’ll bring you live music from the 2019 French Quarter Festival, including the Preservation Hall Brass Band, Soul Queen Irma Thomas, modern jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis, Creole French songs from Don Vappie and Evan Christopher, and Dejan’s Olympia Brass band–all distinct jazz styles. We’ll also have music that distinguishes our cultures: the Yiddish funk of the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, Cajun music from accordionist Bruce Daigrepont, alongside “All that Jazz.”  May the fourth be with us, on American Routes. 

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.