As a trombone player and singer who has performed with artists such as Allen Toussaint and Aretha Franklin, Ashley Shabankareh knows the magic of good music first hand. As the director of programs at New Orleans’ venerable Preservation Hall, her job is to spread that magic far and wide.
Both the intimate French Quarter music location, Preservation Hall, and its Preservation Hall Jazz Band are deservedly well-known, but the work of the Preservation Hall Foundation is less so.
“We do so much really,” says Shabankareh. “We bring teaching artists into schools, help provide instruments, private lessons and mentorships, even provide free online sheet music. We work to empower our wonderful local musicians to pass on this city’s incredible musical legacy to the next generation.”
In addition to running and developing all of the foundation’s various programs, which include outreach through band tours and an extensive jazz archive, Shabankareh helps lead music classes in juvenile detention centers, is a frequent guest speaker at Loyola University, and is currently spearheading the creation of a comprehensive curriculum to provide schools nationwide with an interdisciplinary approach to teaching New Orleans music and culture.
“I adore working with musicians of every level,” she says. “It’s just so incredible to see that light bulb moment in a young musician when something they’re learning suddenly clicks.”
Mentor: I would say that at the top of my list is my mom, who has been incredibly supportive of me being involved in the music industry and following my passion. Professionally, I’ve been fortunate to have incredible mentors like Debbie Guidry, Ron Rona, Jessica Murphy and Tom Kupferer. Defining moment: During the 50th Anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall. We were able to fly out a small group of our Junior Jazz Band students to perform with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was a really special occasion, primarily because I was able to experience the concert with our students, many of whom had never been outside of New Orleans before! Advice for young women: First and foremost, do what you love. Stop making your professional career a competition, and focus on how you personally can do it best. Always be willing to keep learning – it’ll only help you as you continue to grow professionally. Goals: At the top of my list is to read more and to continue to fine-tune my skills in the education field. I’m also looking toward taking more classes on working with students with special needs, and how the Preservation Hall Foundation can help foster more opportunities for these students in our programs. Favorite thing about what I do: Not only do I get to make a difference with the local youth community, but I also get to work closely with New Orleans culture bearers, whose stories really guide me in both how I approach performing and passing on the traditions that make New Orleans so unique.