Video: Jazzman keeps students swinging

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/13/2006 7:33:51 PM ET 2006-04-13T23:33:51

He's toured around the world and played his alto saxophone with everybody who's anybody in jazz.

But now, like many in New Orleans, Donald Harrison is starting over. He's determined to rebuild and is doing his part to make sure that young people are part of the rebuilding process.

"New Orleans is home," he says, "and I have a special place for the children of New Orleans in my heart."

In 2003, before Katrina, through Tipitina's Foundation — an organization devoted to music education — Harrison began working with 40 school students, teaching them the art and the business of music.

"He's not the type of person who would, you know, when things get tough, walk away," says Billy Taylor, director of Tipitina's Foundation. "You know, it's special people like that, that rise to the occasion."

Katrina cut the number of students he helps in half, but Harrison's commitment to helping young, promising musicians has doubled.

"Sometimes I have to forsake a gig or a long tour to be with the kids, but it's a labor of love," says Harrison.

Now, twice a month, the master still puts them through the paces.

"Do you know your major scales?" he asks the kids.

First they say it, then they play it.

Sixteen-year-old Conun Pappas is soaking up all the lessons about the music — and life.

"He's definitely taught me about teaching everybody else," says Pappas. "About, like, bringing someone else along."

And Harrison is resolute despite the storm.

"Katrina is like a roadblock, a big roadblock, that I feel it's going to take a long time to get it back to where it was," he says.

Donald Harrison is slowly reuniting his students and making certain a rich culture is still passed on.

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