It's 10 a.m. and the crowd is already out in full force. Lines to get gumbo and cheese grits with shrimp already appear a mile long, when suddenly a trumpet begins to wail. The main stage at the 2011 Treme Creole Gumbo Festival teems with teenagers; some carrying instruments that weigh more than they do. As they line across the stage, the crowd starts to give an encouraging applause because, for some students in the Don "Moose" Jamison Heritage School of Music, this was one of their first performances.
"They're incredibly nervous, says Derek Douget, the Coordinator of Music Education. "They make no eye contact and look down. After one or two performances, they gain more confidence. We try to get them to focus on the music, not the way they look."
The Don Jamison Heritage School of Music was founded in 1990 and led by jazz master, Edward "Kidd" Jordan. Named in honor of the late Don "Moose" Jamison, a local jazz authority and long-time WWOZ radio disk jockey, the school seeks to provide free music education to children ages 11-17 years old. The school features notable jazz educators in the city from Leah Chase, Germaine Bazzle and Jesse McBride and performance opportunities at Snug Harbor for a jam session the last Sunday of every month and also at any of the Jazz and Heritage Foundation's festivals including Jazz Fest.
"You'd be surprised," Douget said of the students' excitement to learn. "It's so new and interesting to them."
Two years ago, the Heritage School started getting it's primary funding from the Annual Jazz and Heritage Gala, a move Scott Aiges, the Marketing & Communications Director of Programs at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, thinks was a good one. "It used to be a benefit for the foundation as a whole… [but now it benefits] specifically the music school which is something the public is really happy about and supportive of," he said.
The Gala, in its 14th year this year, is priced at $500 per ticket, or $5,000 for a table of 10. With this purchase comes a premium dinner at the Gala and a Gala Pass to Jazz Fest that's good for all seven days of the festival and unlimited re-entry. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue along with Big Sam's Funky Nation also treat gala patrons to a live performance. The Gala used to feature national touring acts like Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, as an exclusive event since these acts were not performing at Jazz Fest. However, in recent years, the Gala has featured New Orleans based musicians. "We value our local artists very much and are proud to showcase their talents," Aiges says. "And what better way to put on display two of the [Heritage] School's successful alumni, Trombone Shorty and Big Sam."
Aiges says the Gala only houses a limited number of seating each year, and it usually sells out raising anywhere between $70,000-$100,000 dollars for the Heritage School of Music.
The Heritage School of Music continues to grow from its open enrollment policy, with Aiges estimating that numbers have grown from around 30 students to 90 students from the 2011 class. Although the program requires that students have at least one year of music instruction and their own instruments to learn, the 10-month long program has grown to include 107 students on the roster for 2012, according to Douget. Classes are held every Saturday at Dillard University, however, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation hopes this is a temporary location for the school.
In 2008, The Jazz and Heritage Foundation purchased the building at 1225 N. Rampart St., the structure right next door to their central office. In the fall of 2011, the Foundation launched an eight million dollar capital campaign to renovate the newly purchased building into a permanent home for the Don "Moose" Jamison Heritage School of Music. The historic 11,000-square-foot building would not only be used for the Heritage School of Music, but also for a new 200-seat auditorium to be used for concerts, the Tom Dent Congo Square lecture series and the Sync Up conference and other expanded programming. Construction is scheduled to begin in May 2012.
"This is such an exciting time for the Foundation," Aiges said. "The expansion that we're planning can be a wonderful opportunity."