Having the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music named for me is more than an honor. It is also an opportunity to realize many of the dreams I have long held for the music and musicians of New Orleans.
This magnificent facility, with its performance, instructional and practice spaces and its studio component, and through the participation of knowledgeable and dedicated musician/mentors from throughout the city, will allow us to create a number of important programs and ensembles that become more necessary with each passing day. Chief among them are a youth orchestra and a youth chorus, each of which will focus on American music and American composers often overlooked by traditional ensembles. Both the orchestra and chorus will provide those who participate with instruction in performance and compositional techniques that have sadly become luxuries in most public and private educational programs.
At the same time, the Center will provide a meeting place for musicians of all ages and levels of proficiency to perform, record, rehearse and share their knowledge, as well as a focal point for the vibrant neighborhood that is being created in the surrounding New Orleans Habitat Musicians' Village. I envision the Mardi Gras Indians, theater and dance becoming part of the Center's mission, as we demonstrate the richness of this resource. The opportunities are boundless.
The preservation of New Orleans is not simply a matter of physical reclamation. It is also an effort to sustain and strengthen a culture, the incredible artistic heritage, with music at its center, that is the city's gift to the United States and the world. With this in mind, New Orleans Habitat Musicians' Village, the newly constructed community in the Upper Ninth Ward that provides new homes for displaced residents, including displaced musicians and their families, will have as its focal point the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
The Center is named for the New Orleans native known to the world as a leading modern jazz pianist, a pioneer in music education at both the high school and college levels, and the patriarch of one of America's most celebrated musical clans. It is Ellis Marsalis' vision that the Center serve as a multipurpose facility with a primary emphasis on the broad spectrum of New Orleans culture, with a special emphasis on the city's rich musical tradition of jazz and blues. The center's services will be provided to both the residents of Musicians' Village and the broader New Orleans community, with programs intended to serve all ages and racial/ethnic groups.
At the heart of the Center will be a 150 seat performance space equipped with movable chairs as well as state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. In addition, the Center will contain recording studio facilities and teaching space for individual and group instruction as well as offices for technical and administrative staff. The Center will also own five elder-friendly duplexes, to be rented exclusively to musicians. One of these units will be dedicated to visiting musicians/scholars in residence.
With maintenance of both community and culture as its goal, the Center plans to integrate performance and education in an array of artistic disciplines, with a primary focus on music.
In line with Ellis Marsalis' commitment to place outreach to children ages 6-14 at the heart of the Center's activities, individual and ensemble music classes will be offered on site, while Center staff also will provide liaison and outreach efforts to existing public school music programs throughout the city. At the forefront of the music initiative will be the creation of an instrumental and vocal youth ensembles, which the Center hopes to develop in conjunction with local officials. Marsalis envisions that these ensembles will focus on the traditional music of New Orleans as well as American music and composers often overlooked by similar programs, and will provide the technical and theory instruction that has been eliminated in far too many school programs. In addition, the Center envisions hosting workshops by visiting musicians that will be open to all interested students and music educators, and coordinating performances and workshops at public school and college music programs by resident and touring artists. Recording facilities at the Center will allow students to document their music while simultaneously learning how to operate and function in a studio.
The facilities of the Center are intended to provide similar opportunities for the city's professional musicians. While serving as a meeting place as well as a rehearsal and performance space, the Center will also allow working musicians to improve their studio and internet skills, and to expand the existing networks of creative artists who are committed to preserving and expanding such ongoing traditions associated with New Orleans as the marching band, the Second Line parade and the Mardi Gras Indian tribes.
The city's musical elders, many of whom have learned from the original creators of the New Orleans heritage, will play a central role in the Center's operations. With its concentration of musicians and wealth of cultural knowledge, the Musicians' Village community is expected to provide an exceptional though by no means exclusive primary source for oral history and video history projects realized through the Center's resources and its coordinating efforts. Discussion and performance programs for all ages will also ensure that the knowledge and experience of those who have created and sustained New Orleans' reputation as a musical resource second to none will remain a foundation for the creative artists of the future.
After the shocking devastation of Hurricane Katrina, individuals and governments worldwide have expressed interest in both learning about this heritage and establishing exchanges that would sustain a dialogue between cultures. Several have already contacted Musicians' Village and the Center in an effort to establish such an effort. With its community base and the wealth of human resources represented by its neighbors and its staff, the Center will be prepared to serve as a significant embassy of New Orleans music in all of its stylistic manifestations.
Once the Center has launched its music programs, it hopes to establish a community-based, multi-generational model that can be extended to other artistic disciplines including dance (ballet, tap and modern), theatre and film. In every instance, the goal will be to impart lasting skills, to provide a forum for innovative and underappreciated creators, and to reach performers and audience members of all ages.
As Ellis Marsalis emphasizes, this is just the beginning of what the Center can accomplish. The goal is to harness the exceptional talents of its students and staff and of the residents in the surrounding Musicians' Village in a collective effort that will provide an invaluable resource to the Upper Ninth Ward, the City of New Orleans, the United States and the wider world.
"I was very fortunate as a youngster. I spent a lot of time around my father and his peers, and saw that their passion, intelligence and commitment went far beyond the party-time stereotype that provides such an incomplete picture of New Orleans and those who have created its musical heritage. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music will ensure that coming generations of musicians will benefit from these magnificent cultural heroes, and that their wisdom and spirit will illuminate the music of the future."
"The Center will be a gathering place for the people in the community to hear music, perform music, be educated and educate others. It will serve as the Musicians' Village home base. Times change, and today we need a place specifically dedicated to passing the tradition on. Ellis Marsalis is the best teacher I ever had, and giving the Center his name sets the highest standard for everything that will be taught there."
Harry Connick, Jr
"The Ellis Marsalis Center is vitally important to the redevelopment of the Upper 9th Ward, to fulfilling the potential of the Musicians' Village and to establishing the most viable model for the rebuilding of all of the shattered neighborhoods of New Orleans. From a global perspective, the Center represents the best hope to preserve and transmit the unique and incalculable musical heritage that New Orleans has given the world."
As one of the many musicians who was nurtured by the vibrant cultural environment in New Orleans, I cannot overstate the importance of the Musicians’ Village. Please lend your support for those artists eager to call New Orleans home again, and for those in future generations who will be the beneficiaries of their knowledge.- Branford Marsalis