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Music Helps Revive New Orleans

For more than 30 years, New Orleans has held a Jazz and Heritage Festival. This year's festival wraps up this weekend. Many well-known musicians come to play at Jazz Fest, but it is also an important showcase for local talent. That is especially important as the city still struggles to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August 2005. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, one local group is doing its part to keep the city's musical heritage alive.

There are still large parts of New Orleans that are all but uninhabited and less than half the people who once called the city home have returned. In the months following Katrina, there was concern that the cultural heritage of New Orleans might have been irreparably damaged. But many musicians have returned, including 21-year-old Troy Andrews, who is known here and around the world as Trombone Shorty.

"Jazz was started here and it is just in some of the musicians' blood. Everything I like to say about New Orleans is that the musicians here are completely honest. I do not know any other place in the world that you can go to hear jazz where people come to dance," he said.

Bass player Michael Ballard says the essence of the music created here is found in every performance in which players alter and add to the sound as they play.

"You solo and you improvise and you play on top of intelligent material, but it is also what you can make up on the spot, whatever you can do or sing. That is what jazz is: whatever you can mix into the melting pot."

Jazz Fest organizer Don Marshall says music and musicians are playing an important role in the recovery of New Orleans.

"So many of our musicians were displaced right after Katrina and they were welcomed by people around the world, cities and individuals, and organizations. While we have struggled to keep the message alive about New Orleans and its importance in rebuilding, our musicians have really carried the message worldwide," he said.

Marshall says Jazz Fest nurtures talents like Trombone Shorty, who began playing in his Treme neighborhood, near the French Quarter, when he was only four years old. When he played at Jazz Fest, it brought him to a wider audience. Marshall says proceeds from Jazz Fest are supporting a number of local projects that will help musicians stay here. These include a school program for aspiring musicians and a housing project, called Musicians' Village.

Troy Andrews' current group is called Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. The ensemble plays a rich mixture of styles that are hard to label. He says this mixing of music in a creative stew is the New Orleans tradition most worth saving.

"In New Orleans, we have a gumbo [mixture] of music. You can walk down the street and catch the Neville Borthers, you can walk three blocks away and catch the Rebirth [Brass Band] and just by having all those different forms of music here, it gives a good avenue to be able understand different types of music and just be involved in the music scene, period. Jazz is my background, but like you can see with this band, we are more rock and roll funk, with a little jazz in it, and that is what we are," Andrews said.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue played at this year's Jazz Fest and are also playing in various clubs in New Orleans this month.