Every year, Jazz Fest brings in the culture of New Orleans, from local greats like Big Chief Monk Boudreaux to the entire Marsalis family on stage.
But some of the youngest performers come from area schools, including NOCCA’s jazz ensemble, made of students from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a performing arts high school.
Two seniors, Kirsten Theodore and Michael Mullins, from the jazz program, talked to us about performing at Jazz Fest and the unique education NOCCA provides them.
What instruments do you play, and how did you get into music?
KT: “I play the alto saxophone, I’ve been playing for about 8 years but I’ve always been around music because my mom is a music teacher.”
MM: “I’ve been playing since I was ten, so, eight years. My father is a well-known trombonist in the area, his name is Mark Mullins, he plays with Harry Connick, Jr’s big band, Michael McDonald, now he has a local band named Bonerama.”
What’s it like playing at Jazz Fest?
MM: “It’s pretty crazy, you really get a cool feeling when you’re standing up on stage and you see the pictures and the posters of all the famous people, like Allen Toussaint and his group and the Marsalis Brothers, all the illustrious people that have played on that stage before you. It really hits you. The whole essence and the culture of it all really hits you. It’s just an honor to be a part of it all, you can’t really describe it other than that.”
Do you ever get nervous up there?
KT: “I’ve gotten over that, I never was the type to get nervous about performing because it’s super fun to me. It makes me feel great because I’m still young and this is something I want to do for the rest of my life so I know I’m going to be able to participate in this legacy.”
Where else have you performed?
KT: “We do Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, we get gigs on the regular, like gigging musicians would. We just get a lot of opportunities on the regular with this school. I was able to play with Herbie Hancock last year. We get to play with Trombone Shorty, Jon Baptiste, we got a lot of opportunities to meet a lot of famous and inspiring musicians.”
You both have full scholarship offers from schools, do you think NOCCA helped with that?
MM: “I think that the way that our faculty and staff have versed us, musically and fundamentally as human beings, the experience we’ve received is unrivaled.”
Do you see the difference between what happens at NOCCA compared to other high schools?
KT: “We literally get to do art like half of the day. I go here a full day and he goes here a half day. So we start our academic classes at 8 a.m. and finish at about 11:30 a.m., and the rest of that time is dedicated to arts. It’s really cool because like I said before we got a lot of opportunities, we get to meet a lot of people, and we get a lot of time to perfect our craft, so there’s no reason for excuses. You gotta get it, especially in the city of New Orleans, we’re right here in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s great inspiration around us too.”
MM: “For me, I can speak to that disconnect that a lot of people notice because I go to a different school, Lakeshore High School in Mandeville. My first day, I’ll never forget, it’s like two different worlds. It’s like going to New York, and then L.A. I couldn’t believe how different it was and how much this place has changed me for the better and really gotten me ready for the world. That’s something I don’t think they teach at any other school, along with the time we spend on our art, and it’s something that I’m so grateful for, you couldn’t match it at any other school.”
Anything else you want to add about NOCCA’s program or performing at Jazz Fest?
KT: “I’ve been playing Jazz Fest every year since I was ten. It’s so fun to do every year, meeting new musicians out there.”
MM: “It’s nothing new but every time it gets better and better. As routine as it may seem to be, it’s not mundane as many people may think. It doesn’t get old, it doesn’t get tiring. I get the same feeling every time.”