French Creole Music and the Birth of Jazz

The first scholarly volume dedicated to French Creole music and its contribution
to the development of jazz in New Orleans.

During the formative years of jazz (1890–1917), the Creoles of Color—as they were then called—played a significant role in the development of jazz as teachers, bandleaders, instrumentalists, singers, and composers. Music penetrated all aspects of the life of this tight-knit community, proud of its French heritage and language. They played and/or sang classical, military, and dance music as well as popular songs and cantiques that incorporated African, European, and Caribbean elements decades before early jazz appeared.

Indeed, enslaved Africans had been dancing, playing music and singing upon their arrival in La Louisiane, then a French colony, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Two previously unpublished interviews add valuable insider knowledge about the music on French plantations and the Danses créoles held in Congo Square after the Civil War. Musical and textual analyses of cantiques provide new information about the process of their appropriation by the Creole Catholics as the French counterpart of the Negro spirituals. Finally, a closer look at their musical practices indicates that the Creoles sang and improvised music and/or lyrics of Creole songs, and that some were part of their professional repertoire.

Winner of the 2023 Award for Excellence for Best Historical Research in Recorded Jazz
from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections


Blanche Touquatoux · Kid Ory & His Creole Jazz Band Kid Ory & His Creole Jazz Band 1922 - 1947
Eh La Bas - Lizzie Miles and Bob Scobey 1956
Les Ognons · Baby Dodds Trio Jazz A'La Creole


"Jazz à la Creole is an excellent scholarly synthesis of the various attributions to Afro-French Creole culture regarding the formation and early development of New Orleans jazz. The study ties together issues related to race, ethnic identity, gender, class, religious and secular education, transcultural exchange, and canon formation. The depth and breadth of sources used and integrated on this topic surpasses previous efforts. This work is indispensable."

- Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator emeritus, Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University, and author of New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History

"With a rich variety of musical notations, lyrics, and historical quotations, Jazz à la Creole demonstrates how the constantly evolving process of creolization was foundational to the development of New Orleans's unique musical traditions. Vézina distills a topic as intricate and boundless as jazz itself with purpose and precision."

- Eric Seiferth, curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection

"Jazz à la Creole: French Creole Music and the Birth of Jazz is a worthwhile addition to any jazz bookshelf. . . . Caroline Vézina has done us a service by delving into this topic so thoroughly."

- Joe Bebco, The Syncopated Times

"Most importantly, [Jazz à la Creole] closes, to a great extent, the gap that previously existed in the history of jazz."

- Bert Thompson, The Syncopated Times

" Vézina masterfully weaves historical context, personal narratives, and musical analysis. … Jazz à la Creole: French Creole Music and the Birth of Jazz is a captivating and well-researched exploration of the roots and evolution of jazz music. ... providing readers with a fresh perspective on a fascinating chapter in American musical history. This book is a must-read for jazz aficionados and history buffs alike."

- Kreol Magazine