It was my first year living and working in New Orleans and my first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival season was upon me. I received an open photo call from a local music publication for their annual Jazz Fest edition. Among the artists they were requesting visuals of, the name of one artist in particular peaked my interest: Trumpet Mafia. After a (very) brief email exchange with the founder and musical director of the collective, Ashlin Parker, I found myself at a month’s worth of rehearsals that culminated in shooting their first appearance at the festival. While at the time it felt fitting that the first time I set foot on the festival grounds would be as a photographer, it was just the beginning of a collaboration with one of our city’s finest musical minds. This year, the group celebrates its fifth anniversary and in honor of the occasion, I sat down with Ashlin Parker of Trumpet Mafia to bring you an inside look into the mind behind the music.
KS: When and how did you begin playing music?
AP: I started playing trumpet for middle school band class when I was 10 years old. I originally picked the trombone but they said my arms were too short for it.
KS: Where did you grow up?
AP: I grew up in Charlotte, N.C. and moved to New Orleans in 2007 to go to grad school at UNO. At that time, the Louis Armstrong Foundation had a scholarship and teaching assistantship that allowed me to work with local schools, teaching the kids about jazz and encouraging them to scat sing with us.
KS: Describe your method/approach/music.
AP: I immediately showed interest in playing trumpet as well as the potential to be good at it but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I truly discovered that my horn could change the course of my life and the lives of those around me. I decided to stay home and not wander around the neighborhood with my friends who were often finding trouble or letting trouble find them. I practiced four to six hours a day until I applied and was accepted to University of North Carolina School for the Arts for my senior year of high school.
KS: What has been your favorite performance experience in New Orleans thus far?
AP: The band and movement that is Trumpet Mafia has been by far my most rewarding musical experience thus far mostly because I get to play with all of my peers and colleagues as well as watch the growth of my current and former students. It also allows me the opportunity to share the stage with masters of this instrument whom I grew up admiring.
KS: Which New Orleans musicians most inspire you?
AP: I am inspired by the trumpeters, the drummers, the sousaphone players, the pianists, the clarinetists. It is not even about the instrument but the quintessential New Orleans spirit that the people behind them bring to their playing.
KS: Favorite place to catch live music in NOLA?
AP: Snug Harbor. Not only do they have the best jazz musicians in town performing there weekly, but they are the standard for treating and paying their musicians well as far as I’m concerned.
KS: What do you love most about this city?
AP: I love the African aesthetic. I love the blurred lines between the audience and performers, dancers, and musicians in the club and on the street. This city operates under a steady level of chaos that (in my opinion) lays a fertile foundation for so many levels of creativity.
KS: What is your favorite non-musical activity to do in New Orleans?
AP: That’s a trick question. Our music is 24/7. Shopping, teaching, hanging with friends – it doesn’t matter because it all shows back up as inspiration on the bandstand. Music is life for many of us.
KS: Favorite food to eat in NOLA?
AP: I love all of the New Orleans classics, but the Vietnamese influence on this city has influenced my digestion the most thus far.
KS: Will we be seeing you at Jazz Fest this year and if so, where?
AP: I’m playing with a few groups this year: Jesse McBride and The Next Generation Big Band, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, John Mahoney Big Band, The O’Jays, Bill Summers and Jazalsa. And of course, Trumpet Mafia plays in the Jazz Tent on Friday, May 3.