The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation - the nonprofit that owns Jazz Fest - today opened its long-awaited education and community facility, the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, with a series of events that begins with a press conference and ribbon-cutting followed by a patrons and donors party tonight, Grand Opening Concert featuring Kidd Jordan and Family (sold out) on Friday plus a Tremé Neighborhood and Community Open House and Heritage School of Music Holiday Concert (free admission) on Saturday.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation purchased the historic building at 1225 N. Rampart Street – the former Tharp-Sontheimer-Laudumiey Funeral Home – in 2008. After extensive planning, the foundation determined to use the space as the first permanent home of its free education program, the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, which has operated on local university campuses since its inception in 1990. The building also will house many of the Foundation’s other programs while also serving as a community arts center.
“George and Joyce Wein have done so much to benefit our community and our culture,” said Demetric Mercadel, president of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s board of directors. “It is only fitting that we recognize their many contributions by having their names grace this wonderful new facility. This is a true testament to their legacy.”
"It is a privilege to have the Jazz and Heritage Center named for Joyce and me," said Wein. "The classrooms, exhibits and the performance space are an excellent addition to the city's cultural landscape. New Orleans and this great festival were always special to us and the only thing missing is Joyce's smiling face and warm embrace as the Center is introduced to New Orleans and the world."
After nearly two years of renovations, the building features seven classrooms (including dedicated labs for piano and drums) and a 200-seat performance hall. All rooms are wired to a central control room for audio and video recording. The building also has interactive video projection for distance learning and special presentations.
"We expect this facility - which is located at the gateway to the Tremé neighborhood - to give a major boost to the cultural and economic development of not only Tremé, but to our entire city," said Don Marshall, executive director of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation.
The nearly $9 million project was funded with more than $3 million in contributions from various sources – including George and Joyce Wein, the Goldring Family Foundation, ArtPlace (a consortium of major national foundations), the Louis Prima and Gia Maione Prima Foundation, the Ella West Freeman Foundation, the Helis Foundation and the State of Louisiana. A large number of individuals, local and national foundations also contributed to the Foundation’s Capital Campaign. The remainder of the project’s costs were self-financed by the Foundation.
Musical equipment makers donated large numbers of instruments and other gear for the facility, including: Shure (microphones), Yahama (drums), Casio (keyboards), Zildjian (cymbals) and D’Addario (strings).
New Orleans business and tourism leaders first contacted George Wein about starting a festival there in 1962. It took eight years, but in 1970 George and Joyce’s Festival Productions was named the producer of the “New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Louisiana Heritage Fair,” which debuted on April 22 of that year. It was George Wein who insisted that the festival would be centered at Congo Square, would focus on New Orleans music and heritage, and would have as much emphasis on food and art as it would on music – values that still haven’t changed.
Although the festival got off to a slow start, it moved from Congo Square to the Fair Grounds in 1972, gradually gaining steam until the mid-’70s, when it began to assert its potential as a cultural and financial cornerstone for its home city.Today, Jazz Fest has a $300 million annual economic impact on New Orleans, and the Jazz & Heritage Foundation uses proceeds from the festival for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. The Foundation also owns radio station WWOZ and the Jazz & Heritage Archive.
For more information, visit www.jazzandheritage.org and www.georgewein.com.