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Apr 18, 2012 5:58 AM by AP

Funeral home to be converted to jazz school

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Four years ago, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation purchased a 12,500-square-foot funeral home at a sheriff's auction.

The nonprofit didn't know exactly what to do with the historic two-story structure, but it was located in the same block as the foundation's headquarters and seemed like a good way to expand its campus, said Scott Aiges, the foundation's director of programming, marketing and communications.

Suggestions included making it the new home for radio station WWOZ or the foundation's archives.

Ultimately, one idea everyone kept coming back to won - make it the permanent home for the Heritage School of Music.

"We feel very strongly about passing on the great wealth of knowledge we have with our musicians to the younger generation," foundation executive director Don Marshall said.

Renovations are expected to begin in November and cost $8.5 million. The foundation kicked in several million of its own money and is trying to raise the rest through grants and personal donations.

The Heritage School of Music, currently at Dillard University, is expected to open in the fall of 2014. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple is the project architect.

The building will feature seven classrooms and a 200-seat performance hall that can also be used as a community center when neighborhood groups need meeting space.

Classrooms will be equipped with cameras for online classes and so students can record themselves and review their performances.

The technology will also make it possible to have someone such as Wynton Marsalis teach a class online from a different part of the country, Aiges said.

The school only has classes one day a week, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, at Dillard. Moving into a permanent location, along with raising money for more classes, will allow it to expand to seven days a week.

"No one else really has the interest and wherewithal to dump a multi-million dollar project like this right at the gate into Treme," Aiges said. "And this will bring other benefits to the community. They will have access to a new state-of-the-art facility, and there will be increased activity every day, which will lead to more cafes and restaurants and art galleries."

The Heritage School of Music focuses on jazz instruction with instructors "Big" Sam Williams on trombone, Ricky Sebastian on drums, Leah Chase on vocals, Derek Douget on saxophone and Michael Pellera on piano. Edward "Kidd" Jordan is the artistic director.

Classes, which will be held in the afternoon following the regular school day, are free to students who have at least a year of instruction under their belt and pass an initial assessment. There are currently 100 children enrolled.

Most public school music classes only have one teacher and focus on marching or concert bands, Douget said. The Heritage School, with eight teachers who each specialize in a different instrument, has the luxury of providing more intensive instruction.

"Bands in schools generally just play during football games or pep rallies," Douget said. "You'll likely get someone who can teach you to read music and the fundamentals of your instrument, like how to play scales. We obviously stress music fundamentals and reading, but we also take it a step further and try to teach the art of improvisation and the history of jazz and where that instrument came from and how it was created."

The Jazz and Heritage Foundation supports local music programs and recently held its "Class Got Brass" competition. Participating schools formed their own brass bands and competed for $30,000 in cash prizes that could be used to purchase instruments.

Kipp McDonogh 15 Middle School came in first followed by O. Perry Walker High School and McDonogh 35 High School.

The goal was to push schools to feature more brass bands as opposed to just marching bands.

"Here we are in New Orleans, where our brass band music is an icon to the world. But some schools don't really support it," Aiges said. "It's more of an extracurricular thing. This was our way to encourage all schools to help their kids carry the tradition forward."

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