People living in and around New Orleans have a deep affinity for the area’s music and culture. They also have incredible resilience to deal with natural disasters like hurricanes. Jeremy Williams, the Band Director at L.H. Marrero Middle School, definitely has both.
When Hurricane Ida hit in August 2021, it completely decimated the school’s band room. Williams jumped into “full-on rebuild mode and was living on the phone and computer all day, seven days a week, trying to find avenues to bring in resources to help,” he says.
Thanks to Williams’ relentless to drive, the Marrero band went from having “a totally non-usable room, non-usable instruments and non-usable storage to students making music and giving performances again,” he proudly proclaims. “While the band program is still in the rebuilding process, the progress that we have made has been tremendous. The young people in the band have been extremely patient and learned many life lessons during this time. Now, they come to rehearsals eager and ready to make music!”
And the music that Williams prepares for them always includes some standard New Orleans repertoire. “Music in New Orleans is deeply rooted, it is embedded into human culture,” he says. “When something like music is part of our lives and the way we live, it isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
Williams tells his students, “we live here, so it is our responsibility to keep our music alive. It’s our job to see that the music lives on and sustains the next generation. I even joke that the heart of a true New Orleans musician naturally beats in 3-2 clave pattern!”
Another way that Williams has helped to support music-playing is through the creation of a youth jazz band called the Next Generation Jazz Band. He initially went out like a talent scout and looked for students for the band. “I went out to listen to kids play anywhere and everywhere,” Williams said. “Many of the kids in this jazz group attend public schools. Many are on free and reduced lunch programs. Many do not have the resources for private lessons. Some can’t attend school where they can get exposed to great opportunities.”
Williams simply looked for children who wanted to play. The band has students of all ages and ability levels from young kids to high school seniors. In the summer of 2022, Williams and the Next Generation Jazz Band recorded an 11-track album of New Orleans tunes. “This gave exposure to many kids who would never have had such an experience. It was an incredible amount of effort to coordinate this group, but it was well worth it,” he says.