If jazz is your poison, be prepared to drink your fill in New Orleans, writes Sophie Barclay.
Jazz landed in New Orleans in the boatloads of enslaved Africans dragged from their homelands of modern-day Benin, Senegal, Gambia, Congo and Nigeria and set to work in the South.
By 1819, more than 500 slaves gathered on Sundays in Congo Square to dance, sing and remember those homelands. Communicating through their music, the common elements of syncopation, polyrhythms, heady drum rhythms and an emphasis on improvisation emerged as the main ingredients of jazz. Even the word "jazz" has African roots, stemming from the West African Bantu language, in which "jaja" refers both to having sex and making somebody dance.
Known as the birthplace of jazz, the site's musical history actually began with the indigenous Houmas Indians about 10,000 years ago, and continues today on Sundays, when locals congregate to play music under the shade of the 400-year-old, oak "Ancestor" tree.
From Congo Square, at the tip of the French Quarter, to former red light district Storyville (where musicians like Jelly Roll Morton made their living), now lost among the "projects", the history of jazz can be found among the streets as, surprisingly, the city does not have a jazz museum. It does, however, boast the world's only national park without a physical boundary, the Jazz National Park, where you can pick up a map for a self-guided jazz tour of the city.
Considered the home of jazz, New Orleans gave birth to legendary musicians including celebrated trumpeter Sidney Bechet and the beloved Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Much of his early history is, rather badly, preserved 10 minutes east of Canal St on South Rampart St. Here, you'll find the dilapidated, graffitied remains of some of the most significant sites in the city's jazz history; the former Iroquois Theatre, where Louis won his first talent show, reputedly in whiteface; and the site of the Karnofsky family's grocery business and residence. This immigrant Jewish family "adopted" Armstrong, and bought him his first cornet.
Satchmo's legacy is also celebrated in August's Satchmo Festival. Beginning in 2001, coinciding with the centenary of his birth, it's the best way to discover the jaw-dropping talent of New Orleans, and probably the only spot you're ever likely to see a nine-trumpet-strong rendition of Armstrong's When the Saints Go Marching In.
If you can't handle August's sweltering heat, join the throngs of jazz fiends who descend on the city for April's better-known Jazz and Cultural Heritage Festival.
But you don't need to go to the festivals to see the real deal. Wander past Jackson Square or nearby Royal St to see top local musicians sitting on plastic buckets, belting out tunes from sticker-covered sousaphones. Tip generously - it's hard to make a living from music in a city where every child grows up playing one, if not two, instruments.
Be sure to check out the jazz institution Tipitina's. It was turned into a community centre during Hurricane Katrina and its charitable wing, the Tipitina Foundation, continues the city's musical legacy by running internships for gifted musicians, donating instruments to schools and running co-operatives with cheap recording and work spaces for creatives.
Don't get sucked in by the XL cocktails and touristy joints on Bourbon St. Lindy hop with friendly locals and listen to brass bands on Frenchmen St. If you want to take home a musical souvenir, try Frenchman's Louisiana Music Factory, an award-winning independent music store stocking the world's biggest range of music from New Orleans and Louisiana.
If you love traditional jazz, join the queue outside Preservation Hall. There are three shows nightly, but you can buy tickets online. Established in 1961, when rock 'n' roll was invading the nation's venues, it aims to preserve, protect, and perpetuate traditional New Orleans' jazz.
They needn't have worried though. Jazz is still the soundtrack and the heartbeat of this fair city.
Getting there: Air New Zealand starts non-stop services from Auckland to Houston on December 15, operating up to five return services per week. Local carriers or Amtrak rail connect onward to New Orleans.
Where to stay: The historic Bourbon Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter is close enough to all the tourist spots, but far enough away to provide a blissful night's sleep.
The writer was a guest of the New Orleans Tourism and Convention Bureau and the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.