The Ellis Marsalis Center For Music Opens In New Orleans

Ellis Marsalis Center For Music Opens in New Orleans Musicians’ Village

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.

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.” 

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.”

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.”

For more information-

 Ellis Marsalis Center for Music

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