New Orleans is a city of music. The sound of horns and drums fills every crack and crevice with soulful vitality. Musicians walk through the streets playing the melodies of their ancestors with reverence and honor, and the songs of their contemporaries with style and fervor. For those who grow up here, who wake up to second line parades on Sunday morning, who sneak in to play at bars and clubs before they’re old enough to enter, music is not just a class in school or an activity after class is dismissed. It is a way of life that is passed down through generations from one family member to another. It safeguards youth from dangerous pastimes and it provides prestige and respect from members of the community. For those who have struggled, music is a way to overcome those trials and lead a successful and fulfilling life. If we can bring the music of this city to its youth, its culture will never fade and New Orleans will remain a place of creativity, spirit and love; always evolving, always changing and always innovating. It is my unique pleasure to be doing an internship with an organization dedicated to these ideals: the Trombone Shorty Foundation.
Troy Michael Andrews, or “Trombone Shorty” as he is known on stages and in arenas around the world, grew up in the Treme, a small historical neighborhood just above the French Quarter. At four years old he was given a trombone and the community immediately recognized his incredible talent. From the day he started playing, Troy was exceptional. He was leading bands by the time he was 8 and was on tour before he reached high school. At age 10 his older brother was shot and killed. But a nurturing community in which he was raised would not let him go the way of his brother. With the support of local musicians and neighbors, he was able to absorb traditional jazz from his elders while steeping in funk and R&B. As he grew up, rock n roll began to filter in to his music-making and he now plays over 200 nights a year with his SupaFunkRock group, Orleans Avenue.
The Foundation that bears his name is dedicated to bringing the opportunities that Troy received in his youth to the underserved schoolchildren of New Orleans, while passing down the unique musical culture of the city. I jumped at the chance to work at the organization in its very first year. My engagement spans both ends of the organization, from administration to mentorship. I work closely with Executive Director and board-member Bill Taylor, a longtime friend and assistant to Trombone Shorty (Bill was a founding member of the Tipitina’s Foundation, another music mentorship program in New Orleans–http://www.tipitinasfoundation.org/). As the Foundation moves closer to its primary fundraising event this year, a show at Generations Hall with Orleans Avenue headlining, I will be aiding Bill with planning and coordination.
I serve as the liaison between the Foundation (the non-profit entity) and the Academy (the class and mentorship program). Each week I work in the office of the Foundation’s partner organization: the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South. It is a new organization dedicated to facilitating scholarship and promotion of Gulf South Culture. Funded by The Edge of U2’s non-profit Music Rising, the Center for the Gulf South provides administrative support for the Trombone Shorty Academy as well as instruments for students to play.
The Academy teacher is prominent local musician Jesse McBride, who has dedicated much of his energy to preserve and celebrate the New Orleans modern jazz tradition of Harold and Alvin Batiste, Edward Blackwell and Ellis Marsalis. Each week students come together for a class on music theory. They receive personal attention from student volunteers from the Music Department at Tulane. As the Foundation intern, I participate in a mentorship role, helping various students with their theory and then giving weekly guitar lessons to a talented young instrumentalist. Students split into sections where they receive instruction on their instruments from local professionals Kevin Louis, Rex Gregory and Allen Dejan and world stars as well. Guest instructors have included world-renowned trumpeter Nicholas Payton, hip-hop and jazz drummer Chris Dave and of course, Trombone Shorty.
With the goal of passing down the musical culture of New Orleans to another generation, the Trombone Shorty Academy recruits students who would not otherwise have a chance to develop their talents to the fullest. Coming mostly from marching band programs, these are public and charter school students who do not have the immense support and opportunity offered by such New Orleans associations the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). The Academy curriculum mirrors the life and career of Trombone Shorty himself: it is rooted in the musical traditions of New Orleans, but transcends the city’s past and incorporates elements of gospel, blues, funk and rock n roll. These students get a unique perspective on the city’s musical heritage alongside a view of a college campus and all the opportunity and chances associated with this environment.
The Foundation lies at the confluence of many important players in the city and at Tulane University. As it evolves from vision to reality, I will be helping to direct its course both one-on-one with individual students, as well as within the greater non-profit organization. This is an exciting time for the Foundation, for Tulane University and for New Orleans as we work together to launch a much-needed program for the youth of New Orleans to express their culture, heritage, life and dreams.