The basis of the New Orleans Jazz Museum was a club founded in 1948 called the New Orleans Jazz Club. (Marquis, Don.“New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum”. The Second Line. Fall, 1989,p. 5-11). The club consisted of individuals dedicated to the preservation of the jazz genre. The museum was important at this time in the culture of New Orleans because many jazz musicians were getting older and the roots of the music were not preserved, the history of jazz music could have been lost if not for the museum. Many of the members had personal collections of jazz memorabilia, including records, books, photos, and other ephemera. In the early years the members were already contemplating a museum to house the collections (Marquis, p.5). In 1961, a suitable location was found and the world’s first jazz museum opened to the public on November 12th at 1017 Dumaine Street in the French Quarter. The Museum’s first director was Clay Watson, who also fulfilled the roles of designer, curator, and cataloger. Generous contributions of artifacts from musicians, fans and other friends of the museum filled out the collection and a research archive was established on the premises. The museum went through several more directors during the museum’s time on Dumaine Street. The collection was thriving but it was becoming apparent that the current location was not large enough and a new location was sought (Marquis, p.5).
The Royal Sonesta Hotel opened on Bourbon Street around the same time that the jazz museum was having its first location problems. As fortune would have it the hotel manager was a fan of jazz music and agreed to let the museum occupy the space around the balcony of the hotel’s nightclub, Economy Hall. The museum had its second grand opening on November 30 1969 (Marquis, p.5). The sympathetic manager was transferred in the early 1970s and the jazz museum moved yet again, this time opening up at 833 Conti Street. Jazz, not being as popular a cause as it is today, had some trouble drawing funding for a permanent collection site. Though the club tried to keep up with rent and staff costs, it could not, and on September 15, 1977, a drastic step was taken. The entire collection of the museum was presented to the Louisiana State Museum. This was necessary to ensure the preservation, if not the constant display of the precious memorabilia (Marquis, p.5-6). The collection was put in storage for about one year and then in the fall of 1978, Don Marquis was hired to inventory and catalog the collection. The importance of jazz and jazz history was becoming known nationwide and Marquis’s work was funded by a federal grant. He was then asked to begin work on a permanent exhibit to be housed in the Old U.S. Mint at 400 Esplanade Avenue. The Mint had been a federal jail, a coast guard station, as well a mint before and during the civil war; the building sat unoccupied and in poor repair in the decades previous to the jazz museum moving in. Creating this exhibit took nearly five years and the museum exhibit, The New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum, opened in October 1983 (Marquis, p.6). The exhibit remains in this location to this day.
The stated objective of the creator of the exhibit, Don Marquis, was to “present a chronological history of New Orleans Jazz, illustrated with actual instruments, photos, narrative, memorabilia and sound.” The museum’s collection is impressive, boasting as its oldest item a drum played in the war of 1812 and displayed in the room devoted to the musical influences that led to jazz; and as its star attraction the bugle and case that Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong learned on in the half-way house where he was living as a child in 1913 (Marquis, p.7-8). Also showcased in the museum is a case that relates to the story of the preservation of jazz that began with the original clubs formation. It is called, “The Revival Case”, and features, instruments from The Dukes of Dixieland and Pete Fountain’s first band, The Basin Street Six, George Lewis’s metal clarinet, and the stories of Preservation Hall and The New Orleans Jazz Club, itself (Marquis, p.8).The museum also featured a sound system playing jazz music throughout the exhibit, an annex showing videos of second lines and performances, and a research archive on the third floor called, “The Jazz Collection Wing” (Marquis, p.9). The jazz museum at the Old U.S. Mint continues to this day with the worthwhile goal of preserving the origins and evolution of New Orleans jazz.