For many, jazz is merely a style of music. For New Orleans, it is as much a part of its tradition as it is an institution. Founded in 1973, the New Orleans Creative Center for the Arts (NOCCA), has championed its legacy in the contemporary era. In its brief history, NOCCA alumni such as Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield, and the brothers Marsalis (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason) have all left lasting imprints both in the Big Easy and the jazz world. As this generation of musicians settles into the prime of their careers, a new generation of NOCCA graduates is making its presence felt. All under the age of 30, today, Christian Scott, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Jonathan Batiste, Sasha Masakowski, Khris Royal, Gregory Agid, and Jasen Weaver are turning the lessons they learned in high school into the new sound of New Orleans.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (Class of 2003, trombone, trumpet): Clyde Kerr changed me as a musician. He wanted me to understand the proper technique so that I could get to where I am today. He focused on getting my fundamentals together—theory and reading and writing music.
Christian Scott (Class of 2001, trumpet): When you were in class with Kent Jordan, he made sure that you dealt with the language that existed in the culture of jazz outside of New Orleans—bebop, hard bop, post-bop, and free jazz—in addition to understanding guys like King Oliver and Kid Ory.
Gregory Agid (Class of 2005, clarinet): Alvin Batiste was the most inspirational and loving teacher I’ve ever had. He taught in a way that he respected every child as an artist. You felt that during the lessons he was learning as much from you as you were from him.
Jasen Weaver (Class of 2008, bass): The environment at NOCCA is one where you learn to be confident in what you’re trying to do and what you want to do. They always found ways to inspire you. I have confidence in my abilities from the foundation I learned in high school.
Khris Royal (Class of 2004, saxophone): Whenever Christian and Shorty played, people automatically listened. From the moment I picked up on that, I always tried to play with the same authority and conviction on my saxophone as they did on their brass instruments. I wanted to play with a lot of energy and intelligence at the same time.
Jonathan Batiste (Class of 2004, keys, melodica): One day in the canteen, Troy approached me and said, “Let’s start a band. Let’s make it a show. It can’t just be a performance. It’s got to be a show.” That was his key word, “show.” That became one of my earliest experiences of playing with somebody that was my peer who wanted to do similar things that I wanted to do.
Christian Scott: I was playing in performance class with (Big) Sam Williams, Devin Phillips, and Courtney Bryant one day when Trombone Shorty and Khris Royal came to sit in. I remember looking at everyone’s faces and thinking that if you fast-forwarded 20 years, it was going to be a who’s-who. You could hear it then, when we were kids.
Sasha Masakowski (Class of 2004, Musical Theatre): I got to know the jazz musicians because they would all play in the orchestra pit for our musicals. And, they would come to all of my parties. I was the Party Queen of NOCCA! I used to have these epic parties at my parents’ house on the weekends. At one party we had a big jam session, and my dad (Steve Masakowski of Astral Project) came out and started playing music with all of the guys.
Jonathan Batiste: One time, Khris Royal and I played this gig at a backyard barbecue with Joe Dyson (drums), who was a few years younger than us. He was so short that his foot wouldn’t reach the bass drum pedal. We couldn’t fix the stool, but I remember looking back during the gig, and there was Joe, standing up, killing it.
Christian Scott: The first time I hung out with Trombone Shorty, I wanted to see what he could do, so I played something on my trumpet. When I finished, he picked up my horn and played it right back to me. I was shocked. I didn’t even know he could play the trumpet.
Sasha Masakowski: I didn’t think about jazz until I started dating Nathan “Kirk Nasty” Lambertson (bassist) during my senior year. But I really liked the vibe of jazz, and I fell in love with the creativity component, something I didn’t get out of musical theatre.
Khris Royal: One day I was really frustrated. I told Christian that I felt like quitting. He sat me down and began working with me on a few things and encouraged me to stick with it. That had a lot to do with me pushing myself to get to where I am today.
Jasen Weaver: Mr. Bat[iste] had this saying, “It’s gotta be jelly because jam don’t shake like that.” He was teaching me to relax and not to think too much about what I was playing. The more I play with more experienced players, the more it makes sense to me. The other day I tensed up, and Herlin Riley told me the same thing.
Troy Andrews: NOCCA wasn’t about teaching kids to play Louis Armstrong songs. It was about giving them an education so that they can have their own discourse their own eyes.
Gregory Agid: When you look at the musicians from my generation, we’re changing the ideas of what New Orleans music can be. There are all these different bands happening on multiple levels, putting out music of the highest quality, and spanning genres that express everyone’s individual personality.
Jonathan Batiste: With the guys who have come out in recent years, we have really figured out a way to make our music accessible to the masses. By creating sounds that catch people’s ears in ways they haven’t been able to hear before, it makes them feel something they haven’t felt before. It’s liberating. I like to call the music we play “social music.”