- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

NEW ORLEANS — Its easy to stroll past the downtown block where Louis Armstrong grew up, around the corner from where "cornet king" Buddy Bolden played his regular gigs and not even know it.

The very neighborhood that cemented New Orleans place in world cultural history has become a bland amalgam of government buildings and paved parking lots.

The Masonic and Oddfellows Hall where Mr. Bolden made his name still stands, but as a nondescript, hollowed-out brick shell.

"It looks like a burnt-out zone," says Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University.

To some, its an outrage that there are essentially no physical markers no plaques, statues or monuments at many of the places where the musicians who gave birth to jazz lived and performed.

Others say its the music that matters, that there still are plenty of intimate bars and clubs where local musicians continue to create what has been called the great American art form.

"Building a jazz infrastructure means investing in the musicians and places where they can play," says Mayor Marc Morial, whose great-uncle was trombonist Kid Ory. "The buildings are important, but youve really got to create a package that includes the music."

How to go about promoting jazz has become a hot topic since the recent release of Ken Burns documentary "Jazz," a $14 million work that got a $1 million contribution from the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tourism officials expect the epic documentary to ignite a romanticism that will have music lovers flocking to the city in search of an authentic jazz experience.

"Whenever theres a big feature on New Orleans, theres always a positive reaction," says bureau spokeswoman Beverly Gianna.

The city, however, has been criticized by those who say the money should be directed to preservation instead.

"While we are investing in Burns documentary, the very sites that would be most appealing to tourists interested in jazz are being torn down, turned into parking lots or otherwise neglected," wrote Times-Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie. "If we dont address these deficiencies, and these hordes of jazz tourists materialize, we will look mighty stupid."

Tad Jones, a local historian who is working on a biography of Louis Armstrong, agrees, saying, "I would have rather they invested in the city itself and in saving buildings that need to be saved. Ken Burns would have gotten that million someplace else."

Proposals for a "jazz trail" linking landmarks around the city have been bounced around for more than a decade.

The few landmark homes that are in good shape, such as the 19th-century Creole cottage where Jelly Roll Morton lived, were bought and restored by individuals who had a personal interest in jazz history.

Last year, preservationist Annie Avery helped save Orys home, which was slated for demolition. She persuaded the owner to sell it instead and had the property highlighted in a preservation magazine.

Mr. Boldens house has been on the brink. Last year, fire charred part of the shotgun structure. The homes owner has said he does not intend to demolish it but wants government help to keep it up.

The city proposed relocating the home to Louis Armstrong Park near the French Quarter, where the National Park Service is developing a jazz historical park. Purists have criticized the proposal, but Mr. Morial says moving the home to the park is the most practical solution.

"You have to keep in mind the overall tourist experience and whether people want to just drive or walk by some old house in an out-of-the-way neighborhood or enjoy it as a museum in a place where tourists go anyway," Mr. Morial says.

The jazz park is one of several attractions for jazz fans in the French Quarter area, including the state Jazz Museum in a former U.S. Mint and Preservation Hall, a onetime art gallery where old-time musicians play traditional jazz.

While the city has paid little attention to the plight of some jazz landmarks, it does invest in young talent. A special high school, the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, includes among its alumni Wynton and Branford Marsalis. The city also sponsors the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp for younger musicians.

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