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Ellis Marsalis Center for Music opens in New Orleans

27 Aug

Back in January 2010, I took a cab ride from my New Orleans hotel early that morning to the Musicians’ Village in the Upper 9th Ward. The Musicians’ Village is a community conceived by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., to provide adequate housing for artists and musicians of the city who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Once the cab driver stopped telling me that it would be much “safer” for him to take me on a tour to see all of Brad Pitt’s houses rather than drop me off in the middle of what he called a “rough” neighborhood, he let me out and I was able to see this wonderful community.

Photo by Kevin Kniestedt

Of course it ended up being too early in the morning for me to catch any musicians out and about in the Village (as it should be…what decent working New Orleans musician is up and about at 9:30 in the morning?).

I was, however, able to briefly talk to two men who were surveying a lot at the end of the block. This was the site that would end up hosting the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.

Photo by Kevin Kniestedt

The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music opened on Thursday, hosting local residents, fellow musicians, supporters, friends and family for its grand opening, including Governor Jindal of Louisiana and Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans, and actress, Renee Zellweger.


There was also a performance from Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., who played a major role in developing the Center as well as the Musicians’ Village (in partnership with Habitat for Humanity).

The Center is not only a performance hall, but will allow opportunity for local students and musicians to take advantage of recording space, classes, computers, and community rooms.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put it best in his address to the crowd at the dedication:

“The dedication of the Ellis Marsalis Center is about more than money and bricks and mortar. 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.”

Emerging Artist: Grace Kelly

9 May

No, not that Grace Kelly.

grace kelly albumI’m torn to define saxophonist, singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger Grace Kelly as “emerging”, considering what she has already accomplished. But as Grace celebrates her 17th birthday next Friday (that’s right, she is just 16), one must assume that there is plenty of opportunity in years to come for this young lady to become a household name in jazz.

On his radio program Jazz After Hours this morning, host Jim Wilke suggested that “young” and “talented” can often go hand in hand, and that no one would argue that both can easily be applied to Grace Kelly. After hearing her wonderful recording of Comes Love, it was easy to agree. And, as her website boasts, I am far from the only person to agree.

Kelly, at age 16, has already performed or recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Diane Reeves, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, Cedar Walton, Peter Bernstein, and Marian McPartland. That is the very short list. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Scullers (another short list), as well as a variety of jazz festivals. She has won numerous young musician and student musician awards, and was named Best Jazz Act in Boston in 2008 by the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll. Oh, and she began her first term at Berklee College of Music last fall, on a full ride, again at age 16.

When you hear Grace Kelly play, or listen to one of her arrangements or compositions, you realize that this isn’t one of those situations where a musician will get cut slack simply based on the fact that they are young. Kelly needs no slack to be cut for her, and the attention that she has received and will continue to receive is more than worthy. Her performances and compositions are frighteningly mature and well designed. In fact, the only way you are even aware that the player is a 16 year old is if you are told that.

What is more surprising is that Grace isn’t someone who had a sax shoved in her hands at age two. She, like many of us, took piano lessons as a young kid. She also followed the typical chronological time line that most kids do in school, not really playing the sax until she was ten. Two years later, she was impressing the likes of Ann Hampton Callaway and Victor Lewis.

I am not someone who throws around the word “prodigy”, but there is not much way to avoid associating that word with Grace Kelly. To imagine what she has accomplished in six years is hard enough to believe. To actually hear it is even more unbelievable.

Grace Kelly’s fifth album is now available, titled Mood Changes. Watch Grace play Setting The Bar with Russell Malone below.

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