NEW ORLEANS — The first graduates of the Trombone Shorty Academy take to the stage Thursday for a performance, the culmination of four months spent learning and playing the musical history of New Orleans.
Since January, a group of about 20 high school students have been gathering every Tuesday evening in a band room at Tulane University.
Alyssa Moore, a sophomore at Warren Easton Charter High School, said that she auditioned for the academy because: “Music is my belief — music is life. It’s really inspiring, and I can express feelings. When I’m down, I play music, and it makes me happy.”
Moore said she plays in several bands and plays the trumpet, clarinet and piano. The trumpet is her favorite, she said, because: “It’s loud and can make vibrato. It can make a person want to be just like you. And it can make a person cry just on the simple fact of how it sounds.”
On Tuesday, the students received a visit by Zigaboo Modeliste, the original drummer for The Meters. Modeliste sat in on drums for a raucous rendition of “Cissy Strut,” grinning happily as he watched the young musicians blow their horns.
Bill Taylor, executive directory of the Trombone Shorty Foundation, said he first got to know Troy Andrews — Trombone Shorty — when he tutored the musician as a 12-year-old.
“He was a good student —intelligent, perceptive and driven. Music was always his thing. He always had a tremendous gift,” Taylor said.
But it was the various mentors throughout his life who contributed to Andrews’ success that inspired the foundation, Taylor said.
The academy provides opportunities for young people to go further into their exploration of music, he said. Andrews “represents what’s possible,” Taylor said. “And that if you are committed, it can become a profession.”
Taylor said a “perfect partnership” was formed between the academy and Tulane’s New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, which is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the culture and history of the region.
Based on the “amazing” first class of kids, Taylor said, the academy is achieving what they hoped it would: Getting kids more interested in music and passing New Orleans’ music culture down to the next generation.
Instructor Allen Dejan Jr. said that learning jazz is a lifelong process, but the academy has generated an interest in the students in learning the “great American art form.”
Along with fundamentals, the curriculum takes the students chronologically from gospel, traditional jazz and early brass band music to rhythm and blues, Mardi Gras Indian funk, hip-hop and “SupaFunkRock,” a genre and term coined by Andrews to describe his own unique style.
Revert Powell, a sophomore at Joseph Clark Preparatory High School and trumpet player, said that the academy has taught him “a lot of extra stuff about music and the details.” Powell said he enjoys working together with the different instruments and “making music people can dance to.”
“When you see young students tap into that and see they are part of that heritage, it can have a profound effect,” Taylor said.
Asked to share some of his 40 years of wisdom from being in the business, Modeliste told the students to be appreciative of the people who reach out and provide opportunities for them.
“This is wings,” Modeliste said of the academy. “Take these wings and fly in whatever direction you need to go.”
He told the students to stick with it, stay focused and stay humble. Modeliste also emphasized the importance of balancing music studies with academic studies and having another occupation to pursue since it’s hard to make a living as a musician.
The Trombone Shorty Academy Band will play tonight at Generations Hall at the first annual Shorty Fest, a benefit concert for the foundation. Other performers include Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Cha Wa and Hot 8 Brass Band.
The concert starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $40 online and $50 at the door.