I am back! Back to the city that I’ve always called home, no matter where I was living at the time. I was gone for more than 20 years, living in cities across the country, traveling to countries across the globe, but New Orleans has always been home.
Like so many others who left in search of career-expanding opportunities and/or developing relationships into long-term commitments, I was crushed by the aftermath of the storm and the flooding of 2005. You could not believe my surprise at this emotional response. Those first few months I found myself crying every time there was a news spot that referenced New Orleans and the devastation that had been wrought. My heart bled for the residents torn from their homes, the financial ruin that many people faced and what seemed the diminished spirit of the city I now knew I loved.
So I returned last year, with high hopes of finding some way to make a difference.
I found an outlet for this hope in the most unlikely of places: my family. You see, I come from a very talented family, both by blood and by marriage. The musical talent springs from my cousin by marriage and a person who has become by spirit, Edward Anderson.
The entire family knows of Edward’s great abilities and creativity with music, the trumpet, composition, and performance. I soon learned of his deep commitment to expanding the career and financial possibilities for his fellow next-generation jazz artists. His idea was to create an organization that would offer performance of original compositions of jazz artists in culturally significant venues that would energize a new look at jazz as an art form — a source of inspiration and a gift to the soul of the city that begat it. He wanted to develop an infrastructure of economic and creative support that would keep these artists here in New Orleans and provide opportunities to mentor the youth musicians who will become great jazz artists of the future.
So, Edward signed me up and among the first things we knew we had to do was to determine how strong this sentiment was in the jazz community. We were very fortunate to meet and later engage with two outstanding researchers – Dr. Janet Spreyer, Co-Director of the UNO Hospitality Research Center, and Marianne Hawkins Sabrier, Project Manager. They gladly agreed to get involved with the project. With their help and the cooperation of Jan Ramsey and Offbeat Magazine, we were able to devise and launch an online survey that sought to:
Identify the economic opportunities for formally trained musicians,;
To quote our friends at the Hospitality Research Center, “We are aware of the importance of the music industry to New Orleans; music is imbedded in its brand. Why then do Nashville, Austin, and New York benefit from their music industry in a way that has not been shared by New Orleans? Only research could help the industry answer this very important question. We were happy to lend our skills to this exciting initiative.”
The survey was offered to musicians, industry professionals and fans both locally and nationally. Though the sample size was small (less than 1100), the findings supported several of our perceptions about the jazz community:
Though highly educated — about 50 percent of the respondent musicians have earned college degrees or received training with formal music programs — less than 30 percent earn half or more of their living from their music, and, the overwhelming number of the gigs were performed in New Orleans;
The survey findings have supported the founding of NOLA Art House Music, a new non-profit dedicated to presenting performances and new works by New Orleans-based jazz musicians in a concert setting, along with educational outreach and mentoring to musically talented youth. The overall mission is to increase economic opportunity for local jazz artists of today and of the future while bringing enhanced music industry presence to the City of New Orleans.
And so, the return to New Orleans has transformed the Sojourner into the Advocate.
Support NOLA Art House Music. The Dream Out Loud concert series at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art starts Saturday, April 16, 2011, at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at http://dreamoutloudpremiere.eventbrite.com/.