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Music Cities:For the Love of Music

俞祎君 Aggi Yu 2017-07-06 15:38

Southern Charm 

The home of blues, soul, and rock & roll, Memphis, Tennessee, has spawned some of the most important artists and record labels of all time. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Cash all started out in Memphis, many of them on the famous Memphis label ‘Sun Records’. The importance of Sun Studios led to it being designated a National Historic Landmark. 

Memphis was also home to Stax Records, the label that shaped the unique music style called ‘Southern Soul’ with stars like Otis Redding. At a time of racial tension, Stax was unprecedented for its racially integrated staff and bands, including the house band Booker T. & the M.G’s. 

Beale Street has been home to blues clubs and restaurants for over a hundred years and is a big tourist attraction in the city. In the 1960s it was declared a National Historic Landmark and declared ‘Home of the Blues’ by US Congress. 


New Orleans, Louisiana, home to one of the worlds more flamboyant Mardi Gras festivals, is also the birthplace of jazz, with the earliest incarnation - Dixieland - sometimes called traditional jazz or 'New Orleans jazz'. 

Louis Armstrong probably needs no introduction. He was one of the most influential figures in jazz, with a career that spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s. He became one of the great public figures of the time – even the airport is called ‘Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’. 


New Orleans has also been a prominent centre of funk, home to some of the earliest funk bands such as The Meters, who celebrated 50 years in music with a performance at the New Orleans Orpheum Theatre earlier this year. The Meters, considered along with artists like James Brown as the originators of funk music, started as the house band for Allen Toussaint. 

Allen Toussaint is one of the most influential figures in New Orleans music writing a number of hits over a 50-year career. He was awarded a National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013. 

Head to the historic Bourbon Street, one of the oldest streets in America. It sits at the heart of the French Quarter and is dotted with iconic buildings, clubs, and bars. A short walk away is Frenchmen Street, where a number of live music venues play anything from jazz to blues and reggae. The Snug Harbor jazz club and bar is considered one of finest here. 


Rock On

New York is an extremely cosmopolitan and buzzing city that has everything going on, from jazz cafes to new wave hangouts. Music thrives in New York – it is here that jazz artists experimented and created bebop, and on the street corners of Harlem and Brooklyn the sweet harmonies of doo-wop music were nurtured. 

While not a huge success at the time, New York band The Velvet Underground are now considered one of the most influential bands, not only on the rock scene, but also on experimental and alternative music. 

Studio 54 in New York is perhaps one of the most famous clubs of all time, where celebrities came to hang out at the height of the 1970s disco scene. While disco was setting the path for electronic music and the clubbing culture that followed in the 80s and 90s, New York was also creating salsa music; combining elements of Cuban and Puerto Rican dance music. 


Probably the most famous music development in the city, however, is hip-hop, which continues to pervade all parts of pop culture around the world. You can even take a tour through New York of the key sites in hip-hop history, often hosted by pioneers of the culture. 

The ‘Great Migration’ of poor black workers from the South brought traditional jazz and blues music to the city, and from there it developed and morphed into Chicago blues and ‘Chicago-style’ Dixieland jazz. Muddy Waters, the ‘father of modern Chicago blues’, introduced the electric guitar and went on to heavily influenced early rock and roll music. If you’re interested in Chicago blues, be sure to visit during the annual Chicago Blues Festival. 


One of the first rock and roll songs was Maybellene by Chuck Berry, who had travelled to Chicago where he met Muddy Waters. The rock sound was born when he took the electric guitar and put it at the centre of the music. 

The ‘Chicago style’ of jazz was brought to the city from New Orleans by people like Jelly Roll Morton, jazz's first arranger, and Louis Armstrong, whose recordings marked the transition of original New Orleans jazz to a more sophisticated type of improvised music with more emphasis on solo choruses, faster tempos, string bass and guitar (replacing the traditional tuba and banjo) and saxophones. 

When Chicago musicians started playing four beat measures, they laid the foundation for the swing era. The Lindy Hop was originally danced to four beat Chicago style jazz and went on to become one of the iconic features of the swing era. 


Speaking of four beat - the city is also the birthplace of ‘House’ music, which is now infused in pop music around the world. House music, defined by its 4x4 beat, originated in a Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse, from where it took its name. DJ Frankie Knuckles popularized house music at the club and became known as ‘The Godfather of House Music.’ 


Metro is one of Chicago’s legendary venues, and music greats like Bob Dylan, James Brown, Prince, and Nirvana have all performed here, while in its basement you will find the Smart Bar, home to top-notch electronic music talent, with past visitors include said Chicago house pioneer Frankie Knuckles. 

The Birth of  Pop Music

This is the city that spawned The Beatles, the biggest selling and most influential music group of all time. Liverpool has been recognized as a ‘City of Music’ by the United Nations and in 2001 the Guinness Book of Records declared Liverpool the ‘City of Pop’ due to the many number one records to have come out of the city. 


The Beatles emerged from the ‘Merseybeat’ scene that developed in Liverpool during the early 1960s. Merseybeat provided many important developments in pop and rock music, including the format of the rock band as we know it today, with lead, rhythm and bass guitars with drums. If you’re a Beatles fan be sure to go to the Cavern Club where they started out, and maybe skip the tour of their old houses unless you’re really really keen. 

One of the biggest selling songs of the 1980s was by Liverpudlian band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Their song Relax courted controversy with its sexually suggestive lyrics, and also gave rise to the iconic ‘Frankie Says Relax’ t-shirt. 


Often thought of as the birthplace of many a music scene, London is an eclectic mix of cultures and influences, and the music here is a melting pot unlike any other. 

Some of the biggest names in music started out in London, from the Rolling Stones, to the punk scene’s Sex Pistols. Over the last decade or two, London has spawned new music styles, including the rise of ‘Dubstep’ and ‘grime’, which combine elements of various music styles that have been stewing in London for several years, including 2-step garage, broken beat, jungle, and dub.

Visit Camden, where the vibe is generally more goth and ‘alternative’ (and the market here is where you will find the necessary attire for these scenes), but it is also home to The Jazz Café. The much-publicized closed-and-reopened Fabric nightclub has in the past been voted best in the world and is essential for any electronic music fan. 

One of Europe’s finest music capitals, Berlin’s has great classical music, with three major opera houses, and the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the finest orchestras in the world. 


Back in the 1970s, Berlin was also home to an influential punk and rock scene. West Berlin's stark art-music scene influenced artists like Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie, who lived there in 1976 and recorded his atmospheric Heroes in the city. 

Above all, however, the city has embraced electronic music, with a plethora of record labels, world famous clubs, and artists based in the city. Since the early electronic experiments of ‘krautrock’, Berlin has become one of the key cities for any techno music or electro music aficionado. Head to the Kreuzberg area, which once inspired those old rockers, and is now full of clubs, galleries, and hip people. 

Islands of Music 

Cuba’s epicentre of culture, Havana, has a strong musical vibe, with influences from Africa and Spain, and an infectious rumba rhythm. 


The Buena Vista Social Club was a members' club in Havana that closed in the 1940s. In the 1990s it inspired an album made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder, featuring musicians who used to perform at the club. There is still a club under the name there, but it is so full of tourists that you won’t get a very authentic taste of Cuban nightlife, unless you’re lucky enough to catch one of the original band members performing. 


Grammy award winning group Orishas are a contemporary Cuban hip hop group from Havana. Founded in 1999, they appeal to Cuban youth by combining African-American hiphop and rap with traditional Cuban beats like salsa and rumba. In 1999 Fidel Castro threw a party for them and had a meeting with all the musicians, the first time the Cuban government showed support for hip hop music. 

Head to La Casa de la Música Centro Habana, one of Havana’s most popular clubs and live music venues for a bit of salsa dancing. The Gran Teatro de la Habana is a beautiful neo-baroque building that’s well worth checking out. A theatre since 1838, it is home to the Cuban National Ballet. 

Jamaica is an incredibly rich place for music, with a distinctive sound that has influenced the world of music far more than you might realize. 


Bob Marley

There are a range of uniquely Jamaican genres, including ska and rocksteady from the 1950s and 60s, which incorporated elements of American R&B with the local Caribbean mento and calypso styles. This evolved in to more styles like dancehall and, the most well known, reggae. 

Jamaican music had a big influence on the music and cultural scene in the UK when it was taken there by large numbers of immigrants in the 1950s and it incorporated in to new music styles, from ‘lovers rock’ to ‘2 tone’ to the aforementioned dubstep. 

Many elements of the musical culture of the island were also taken to New York by young Jamaican Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc) who is considered the originator of Hip Hop, while rap can see its roots in the Jamaican tradition of ‘toasting’, a kind of spoken poetry over music. 


Unlike the other destinations on this list, Ibiza hasn’t got a history steeped in musical innovation, and it hasn’t produced any household names. Instead, however, Ibiza has become Europe’s party island with an astonishing concentration of beach bars, open-air clubs and live music venues. Some, like Café del Mar, have become legendary, and eponymous with ‘chillout’ music, while the super clubs like Pacha, Space, and Amnesia have become pilgrimage sites for serious party animals. 

Every summer, from June to October, Ibiza hosts a massive selection of the biggest star DJs and live acts, and you can find a number of music compilation albums marketed as ‘The Sound of Ibiza’ or something similar. 

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