by Patrick Jarenwattananon
The horns of the current Monk Institute combo: (L-R) Godwin Louis, Billy Buss and Matt Marantz. Hogyu Hwang plays bass. (Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR)
New Orleans has a history of nurturing amazing young musicians, reared by multiple generations of mentors. But jazz education is, more and more, moving into the university and conservatory, with no signs of stopping. So it's appropriate that as of 2007, the cradle of jazz also has a world-class college program of its own.
When the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz officially relocated to New Orleans, it brought a unique, top-notch performance program with it. Every two years, the Institute selects a small group of musicians for an intensive, all-expenses-paid scholarship. They work together as a combo, under the eye of Terence Blanchard, and emerge with a Master's Degree. What's especially remarkable is that Terence knows how to pick 'em: recent alumni include buzzed-about cats such as Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith III, Joe Sanders, Gretchen Parlato, the entire Lionel Loueke trio ...
As part of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the combo (full personnel found here) played the opening set at the WWOZ Jazz Tent. I didn't hear anyone who struck me as The Future Of Jazz, Now. But I did hear an incredible amount of proficiency within the tradition of progressive hard bop. When some of these folks get their own bands -- and/or move to a bigger scene and start playing with everyone and their mother -- look out.
Related At NPR Music: An NPR story from correspondent John Burnett about the Monk Institute's move -- and its commitment to community education in New Orleans -- in 2007.