With rescue crews now combing southeast Louisiana to help residents caught in the flooding and assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida, which made landfall near Port Fourchon on Sunday morning, one early historical casualty has already been identified. The Karnofsky Store, a Jewish family’s former tailor shop and residence in New Orleans that served as a second home for jazz legend Louis Armstrong and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, completely collapsed when the category four storm swept across the city.
According to the National Parks Service (NPS), which oversees a multi-site programme dedicated to the history of jazz in New Orleans, Armstrong worked for the Karnofskys as a boy and ate meals with the family, and they encouraged his early musical talent. “The Karnofskys loaned Armstrong money for his first cornet,” the NPS says. “Morris Karnofsky, the son of the family and Armstrong’s boyhood friend, opened the first jazz record store in town, Morris Music. Located at various addresses on South Rampart Street through the years, it was a meeting place for musicians. Armstrong visited his friend and his musician buddies at the store on his many return trips to the city.”
Over the years, many plans have been hatched to restore the building, including a 2019 bid by the Cleveland-based real-estate firm GBX Group, which bought several properties on the street with the aim of turning them into nightclubs or lounges. “The use is going to incorporate the history of jazz,” chief executive Drew Sparacia told the Times-Picayune. “We want the whole block to celebrate that history.” The building remained unoccupied, however, when Hurricane Ida arrived this weekend.
The Little Gem Saloon next door, where early Jazz figures Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard and Jelly Roll Morton played and socialised, also sustained heavy damage. A mural painted on the side of the building by the artist Brandan Odums, known as BMike, showing Bolden and his band was completed destroyed when the wall collapsed during the storm. Based on the only known photograph of Bolden, a cornet player who is credited as one of the grandfathers of jazz—although no recordings of his music survive—the mural was commissioned for New Orleans’s tricentennial celebrations in 2018.
“I’m hoping that will cause people to investigate the story of Buddy Bolden, to look into who he was and who his band was,” Odums told the Times-Picayune when the work was unveiled.