New Orleans school board reverses little known ban on jazz

FILE - Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis performs for school children during a program "Cookin' with Jazz'' with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans, Aug. 28, 2006. During Carnival season, flocks of marching bands parade through the city streets even though jazz music and dancing has been banned in New Orleans public schools for almost a century. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports the Orleans Parish School Board is poised this week to reverse that policy 100 years after it was passed. School officials say they're glad the local jazz ban has been ignored for decades. The board planned to vote to reverse the policy Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber) (Cheryl Gerber, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW ORLEANS – With its president saying it had racist origins, the New Orleans school board has unanimously reversed a little known but century-old ban on jazz in schools in a city which played a huge role in developing jazz and where it is still played nightly at various venues.

“I’m very glad that we can rescind this policy. I want to acknowledge it. It was rooted in racism,” Orleans Parish School Board President Olin Parker said during the meeting Thursday night. “And I also want to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of our students and especially of our band directors, whose legacy continues from 1922 through present day.”

The board’s resolution said it wanted “to correct the previous action of the School Board and to encourage jazz music and jazz dance in schools.”

Board minutes from March 24, 1922, said “it was decided that jazz music and jazz dancing would be abolished in the public schools.” One member — who walked out on a special meeting called at the end of the session because reporters were not allowed to cover it — abstained from voting on jazz.

Officials told The Times Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate that the 1922 board members were trying to distance students from a genre with African American origins.

A copy of a news clipping from 1922, posted on the newspaper’s website, did not mention race. It quoted the resolution’s sponsor, “Mrs. A. Baumgartner,” as saying she had seen “a lot of rough dancing” at after-school events. “This cheek-to-cheek dancing is terrible," she said.

Ken Ducote, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, brought the policy to the board’s attention after reading about it in Al Kennedy’s book “Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans.”

“It was just one of those things that was buried in the books,” board member Carlos Zervigon said Friday. “Obviously it was ridiculous and never really applied. But what an opportunity to be able to go back and reverse it on the 100th anniversary of its passage and acknowledge what our schools played in the formation and development of music in our classrooms.”

The earlier board's vote on March 24, 1922, was passed without “prior policy development, analysis, or debate,” and the proposal had not been on the agenda, the current board noted.

“We’re glad that the policy was ignored by our schools, because our schools played a major role in the development of jazz,” said member Katherine Baudouin.