IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Marsalis brings jazz back to New Orleans

Weeklong event aims to welcome musicians scattered by Katrina home
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis kicked off a weeklong fete Monday that signals the return of high-profile jazz to New Orleans, which is still reeling from Hurricane Katrina.

"We're going to kill ourselves this week to bring the spirit of jazz (back to New Orleans)," Marsalis said.

The city hopes to lure musicians with a "Musicians' Village" being built by Habitat for Humanity and the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

"Musicians are hurting right now. They're spread out all over the country," Mayor Ray Nagin said at a news conference.

Marsalis said he's been deeply affected by what's happened to his native city.

"It's like somebody violated your mamma. You can't really explain that," he said.

He said Katrina has revealed deep national flaws such as racism, burdensome bureaucracy, poor leadership and class problems.

"I think it's a gut check for our country," Marsalis said. But, he added, the outpouring of help showed "how beautiful of a soul the nation can be."

The week will culminate with the first public performance of a new composition celebrating Congo Square, the city's revered public square where African slaves were free to play music.

Marsalis, a New Orleans native, and other members of the New York-based Jazz at Lincoln Center, of which he's the artistic director, will host music workshops and concerts for students and New Orleans musicians during the week.

On Sunday, Marsalis and Ghanian drummer Yacub Addy will lead a performance called "Congo Square." The composition, which has not been heard publicly, will combine jazz and African drumming styles.

"I think it's different from anything that's been heard before," Marsalis said.

The composition will be uplifting, Marsalis said, as traditional jazz melodies and rhythms interact with traditional African beats and chants "to come up with a form that reflects what happened in Congo Square."

Starting in the 1700s, African slaves gathered in an area that became known as Congo Square just outside the French Quarter to dance and play music. Many music historians trace the origins of American jazz and blues to the square, which today is enshrined as the Louis Armstrong Park. Marsalis and Addy will perform their composition in the park.