“New Orleans is the only place I know of where you ask a little kid what he wants to be and instead of saying ‘I want to be a policeman,’ or ‘I want to be a fireman,’ he says, ‘I want to be a musician,'” said Allan Jaffe, founder of Preservation Hall.
The French Market and the Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans are working together to keep our youth interested in traditional jazz music. The two organizations created “Seeking Satch,” a competition to discover the next jazz musicians who will continue the legacy of The Big Easy.
During the French Quarter Festival, the first tier of contestants vied for a Senior Ambassador award. Terry Gibson, Jr., a senior at Warren Easton Senior High School, took home the grand prize for his lively “St. James Infirmary.” As a result, he has been offered a full, four-year Ellis Marsalis scholarship by the UNO Jazz Studies Program. Gibson also won a trip to Bonn, Germany in late May to be a featured performer at the “Keep New Orleans Alive” benefit concert at the Bundeskunsthalle, the official museum of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“Louis Armstrong knew how to put the right amount of soul in his music,” Gibson says. “He had you feeling like he was feeling.”
Auditions for the Junior Ambassador auditions were held in mid-May. Doyle Cooper, Cameron Dugas III, John Michael Bradford and Herman Williams IV are the four Junior Ambassador winners who won spots in the New Orleans Jazz Institute’s Saturday Music School.
“One of my favorite things about Louis Armstrong is that he created conversation through jazz,” says Doyle Cooper, an 11th grade student at NOCCA who leads the Red Hot Brass Band, which is mostly composed of high school students. He won the judges over with his rendition of “West End Blues.”
“I wasn’t really sure who I was going up against. I practiced long and hard on that piece,” says Cooper.
Cameron Dugas III is a 10th grade student at De La Salle High School, and he was first runner-up at the 9th-11th grade level. Dugas has been playing the trumpet since he was 10. “The music teacher at one of my old schools played the trumpet, and I said that I wanted to play the instrument because it sounded so cool,” Dugas says. He played “St. Louis Blues” in his audition.
John Michael Bradford, grand prize winner at the 6th-8th grade level and 7th grade student at the Haynes Academy for Advanced Students, was very excited about winning a competition that is inspired by Louis Armstrong. Bradford starting playing the trumpet when he and his family evacuated during Hurricane Katrina. “We evacuated with a musician named Sam Williams, and he has his own band, Funky Nation,” Bradford says. “He started playing the trombone, and it inspired me to play music. At first I wanted to play the trombone, but we couldn’t get one so my grandfather gave me his trumpets.” Bradford said that hearing Big Sam play woke something up in him, and he knew that he was supposed to be a New Orleans jazz musician.
“I want to share New Orleans music with the world and bring a smile to every face, just like Satchmo did,” Bradford says.
Herman Williams IV, 7th grade student at McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts, won first runner-up at the 6th-8th grade level. Herman had much to say about Louis Armstrong, who influenced him to start playing the trumpet. “Satchmo’s style, from the handkerchief to the big smile, embodied the spirit of his birthplace, New Orleans,” Herman says. “He made his way to the top the right way and in my opinion was and is the best trumpeter in the world.”
All of the finalists will play at Satchmo SummerFest as part of the Trumpet Tribute. Producers of “Seeking Satch” said that this first year’s competition serves as a promising start to what the contest’s sponsors intend to be an annual contest for local, national and international trumpet players who, it is hoped, will come to New Orleans to compete, study and strive.
“I’m dedicated to this tradition,” grand prize winner Doyle Cooper says. “Traditional jazz is New Orleans. I feel that our contribution is to keep that going.”