NOCCA offers young musicians the chance to play Jazz Fest

Two seniors talked to us about performing at Jazz Fest and the unique education NOCCA provides them.

by Mary Staes
April 30, 2019

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.”

The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) Jazz Ensemble performs in the WWOZ Jazz Tent during the 50th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La. Sunday, April 28, 2019. Photo by Matthew Hinton

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.”

New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
Getting there
2800 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA
Mon-Fri 8am–6:30pm
Sat-Sun Closed
More Info

Mary Staes is Digital Content Lead for Very Local. She works with our freelancers and crafts content for our social media platforms and website. Before Very Local, she worked with CBS affiliate WWL-TV as a web producer and weekend assignment editor for about 4 years. She has also handled broadcast coverage for 160 Marine Reserve training facilities while she served as an active duty Marine. As a native New Orleanian, she takes being "very local" to heart. She loves being intertwined with the culture and figuring out how there are less than two degrees of separation between us all, whether...

More Local Stories

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Sanford

On this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando explore what’s new in the Northern part of town. Sanford has a plethora of breweries, bars, and delicious dining options to choose from.

Hometown Tragedy: The Pike County Massacre

On this episode of Hometown Tragedy: Missing in Milwaukee, we’ll explore what happened to Jerica Banks, her children, and how it impacted their community.

Six New Orleans parks that are perfect locations to celebrate 4th of July

Head to one of these six New Orleans parks to celebrate Independence Day in the city.

Cheap Date Orlando: Punk Rock & Pooches

Two Orlando couples shop vintage, search for the perfect slice, visit a post-apocalyptic saloon, and take the stage on blind dates in Orlando.

Fit and Fab: Free summer workouts in Boston

Cover photo courtesy Getty Images Looking to get fit for the summer? Still wary of COVID-19 or just looking for some sunshine while you sweat? Here are some Boston free summer workouts across the city so you can keep moving all season long! Seaport Sweat May 2 to Sept. 29 Boston’s biggest free workout series…

What’s On the Menu?: Farm-to-table

The farm-to-table movement brings locally grown foods to your plate. Not only will enjoying farm-to-table meals allow you to indulge in fresh, nutritional, seasonal dishes, but farm-to-table dining helps the environment and supports the local economy.  Check out these delicious farm-to-table restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina on the latest episode of What’s On the Menu?. …

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

A guide to Pittsburgh’s summer events must-do list

Check out our roundup below for the can’t-miss events happening in the city over the next few months.

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Tarpon Springs

In this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando you’ll be transported to a thriving Greek community nestled on Florida’s gulf coast. From sponge diving to flaming cheese to a Greek bakery that supplies a ginormous amount of baklava to the entire country, you’re sure to fall in love with Greek culture in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Dorchester doughnuts that pack a paczki

These traditional Polish pastries are the real deal.

black owned brunch spots new orleans 14 parishes

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

Queen Trini Lisa’s Ascension to New Orleans’ Caribbean Soul Food Throne

Lisa Nelson didn’t plan on being a chef. She didn’t anticipate becoming a queen either, but true to the most beloved of royalty, the people made her one.

drive-in movie theaters near Pittsburgh

Guide to drive-in movie theaters near Pittsburgh

Road-trip idea: Get out of the house and under the stars. Here are six drive-in movie theaters you can visit all summer long.

documentaries about Pittsburgh

9 documentaries about Pittsburgh history

From punk music in the ‘80s to a documentary about the polio vaccine, there is a lot of local history to watch