We begin with a heartwarming story courtesy of the July 27-August 2, 2008 issue of American Profile
magazine headlined "Hometown Heroes: Jazzing Up the Big Easy." It's a moving account of how students at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, led by music director Jim Warrick, spent their spring break not on the beaches in Florida but in the heart of storm-ravaged New Orleans spreading music, good cheer and doing anything they could to help the city's still neglected, disorganized and displaced residents. For seven days in March, thirty-six students from the New Trier Jazz Ensemble led a caravan through the city that helped build a home for displaced professional musicians while placing instruments in the hands of students whose music programs were obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.
Warrick conceived the venture in 2006 after taking a bus tour through New Orleans, where he and Mrs. Warrick saw first-hand the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane that left much of the city under water, contributed to more than 1,800 deaths and cost the city about $81 billion in damages. The teary-eyed tour guide said, "Somebody on this bus should do something about this." Warrick turned to his wife and said, "That's us." Once back in Winnetka, he spearheaded a fund-raising drive that included a sixteen-hour telethon on public television, sales of a special CD and a series of lectures to let students know the history and culture of New Orleans.
Once in New Orleans, Warrick and the students handed out more than 500 instruments, worth about $300,000, to schools that desperately needed them. They also operated a traveling fashion boutique that distributed more than 500 donated dresses and 400 tuxedos to New Orleans students for their proms, a tradition that had become a rarity in the wake of Katrina. Lastly, the Jazz Ensemble contributed $75,000 and three days of manual labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Musicians' Village, which provides residences to artists displaced by the hurricane.
This is in the finest spirit of the American tradition. When a need arises, there are always those who will take it upon themselves to mobilize their resources and face the situation head-on, sacrificing their time, energy and money to lend a helping hand. Kudos to Warrick and the NTHS Jazz Ensemble for their sacrificial gallantry in the face of such an horrendous crisis. (FEMA, please take note.)