As the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the unveiling of the Music Center restores hope in the Musicians' Village, Upper Ninth Ward and the wider New Orleans community
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/
Nearly six years ago, shortly after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the New Orleans Community, Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and singer/pianist/actor Harry Connick Jr. decided to build a haven to protect and preserve their beloved city's rich musical culture. Located at 1901 Bartholomew Street in the heart of the Musicians' Village in the Upper Ninth Ward, and named for one of the city's most influential pianists, educators and living legends, the Ellis Marsalis Center For Music is a state of the art facility to support ongoing development of New Orleans music and culture. On August 25, 2011, the dream came to life as the Center's performance hall hosted local residents, fellow musicians, supporters, friends and family for its grand opening. Among the special guests: Governor Jindal of Louisiana and Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans, and actress, Renee Zellweger.
Like the Musicians' Village, the innovative New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity project that has provided 72 single-family homes and 10 elder-friendly duplex units for the city's displaced musicians, the Ellis Marsalis Center will serve as a home for hope, regrowth and creativity. The Center will provide a range of musical instruction and cultural enrichment programs for the area's students. Equally important, its state-of-the-art performance space, recording facility and computer technology, and the production and professional development training provided by Center staff, will be available to Village residents, the many talented artists who claim the surrounding Ninth Ward as home and ultimately all of New Orleans. The Center is both a gathering place for Village residents to address community issues and a home base where diverse creators can realize their visions. "The dedication of the Ellis Marsalis Center is about more than money and bricks and mortar," said Governor Bobby Jindal in his address to the crowd. "It is another sign of the rebirth of a great city - a city that will be a beacon of entertainment and inspiration for our children and generations to come. Through wars, hurricanes, and floods, one thing has remained unchanged - our people are strong and like none other."
For Connick, naming and shaping the Center after the legendary musical patriarch was a no brainer. "Ellis's strengths are his greatness as a pianist coupled with his ability to let you discover things on your own. Instead of insisting on teaching you his way, he watches and lets you discover. He definitely taught me a lot about playing the piano, but his work ethic and constant quest were even more important. All of the things that he taught us can take place at the Center." Ellis Marsalis became the obvious embodiment of the Center's goals notes Executive Director, Michele Jean-Pierre. "His resume speaks for itself, not just in terms of the music that he and his sons have created but also the literally hundreds of students that he has inspired." Being that his father is not one for acclaim or attention, Branford puts the honor into perspective, "I see my father as a metaphor for all of the teachers out there that work hard every day without recognition, and want nothing in return but the well being of their students."
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke of the facility's impact beyond the neighborhood, "it should not be lost on anyone that we're standing on sacred ground in the Ninth Ward. This particular piece of property in the United States of America, will become a symbol for America's greatness again." The Center is indeed a key player in the city's post-Katrina response, and will serve as "the beating heart of the entire Musicians' Village effort," explained Director of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, Jim Pate. "As a facility, the Center has perhaps even exceeded the original vision, with audio-visual facilities second to none." It includes a performance space that seats 150 and doubles as a recording studio, with high end audio equipment and lighting; a dance studio that will double as an exercise facility; two large classrooms; a computer room where students can access educational software and residents can employ technology in enhancing their careers; a listening library/study area; a "musicians' hangout room" that can accommodate meetings of community groups; and a large front porch and courtyard. "We're creating a new mold," Ellis Marsalis noted with pride, "we intend to connect the art forms-; music and theater, music and dance, including hip hop, films and the visual arts. The physical space and resources of the Center are fantastic."
The debut musical performance at the Center was a duo with Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." Both were astounded by the acoustics in the room, and were later joined by Delfaeyo and Jason Marsalis with Nobu Ozaki on bass. Ozaki is also a resident of the Musicians' Village. The McMainHigh School Choir gave a breath taking rendition of the spiritual, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and a brass band comprised of Musicians' Village residents flooded the isles and got the crowd dancing. Kate Connick (accompanied by father, Harry on piano) appropriately performed her new release, "A Lot Like Me." The song celebrates the American Girl debut of two New Orleans dolls, Cecile Rey and Marie-Grace Gardner (proceeds from sales of the single will benefit the Center.) Finally, Ellis took to the stage with a brilliant solo performance of "Django."
The afternoon was one of appreciation and recognition of those that contributed time, money, skills, and love. Funding for the Center was raised primarily through private donations, in tandem with the overall Musicians' Village project. Along with nearly 70,000 volunteers and donations from around the world, the generosity of the Dolan family and Madison Square Garden, the Dave Matthews Band, Warner/Nonesuch Records and many others in the music community helped to create both the Center and village. The Dave Matthews Band Musician's Lounge was dedicated in acknowledgment of the group's support; a classroom was named in honor of Moe Dallolio, a big band musician from NY whose family is helping fund programming; and Robert Hurwitz, President of Nonesuch Records was recognized with the unveiling of Hurwitz Way in the Village's neighboring Toddler Park. Jim Pate of Habitat for Humanity was honored for his unwavering support and enthusiasm for the Center. Branford and Harry's long time Manager and tireless partner in the creation of the Center, Ann Marie Wilkins was also honored for her dedication and involvement in the process from start to finish. Ellis Marsalis III was on hand to introduce his father to the stage for the final dedication. Cheered on by a room of loving and thankful familiar faces, it was a very meaningful moment for the legend, "having the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music named for me is more than an honor," said Marsalis. "It's also an opportunity to realize many of the dreams I have long held for the music and musicians of New Orleans."