Sept. 17, 2005 — -- Wynton Marsalis is on a journey back home. He's on a mission to console friends, inspire hope and see firsthand his beloved New Orleans -- the city he calls the soul of the country.
"There was a certain creative intelligence that flowered in New Orleans, and that creative intelligence expressed itself in music and architecture, in food, in cuisine, and in our way of being, in our way of life," he told "20/20's" Deborah Roberts.
In the cruel aftermath of Katrina, basic necessities like shelter and clean drinking water are of utmost concern, but Marsalis knows that the music and culture of New Orleans will give people hope.
"When you have devastation, that's when you need to look at a flower. That's when you need it. You want something that's going to take you into the deepest, deepest center of your humanity, so you can hold onto that," he said.
And for Marsalis, music is the expression for his humanity.
Raised in a family of musicians, Marsalis first picked up the trumpet at age 12, and discovered jazz. Now at 43, he's an eight-time Grammy winner and now fronts New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. While he's a huge success in the Big Apple, his heart still belongs to the Big Easy.
"20/20" joined him on his trip down to New Orleans in the days after Katrina ravaged the city.
During the visit, we saw flooded streets and devastated neighborhoods, but we also saw rays of hope.
New Orleans' famous Garden District was still intact and the home of Marsalis' parents was barely damaged.
In spite of the devastation throughout much of the city, Marsalis wants to highlight not the New Orleans of two weeks ago, but his New Orleans, a city built with grit and filled with music. Marsalis' city is one where blacks, whites, and creoles melted into one big gumbo of a party, stirring in classical, African and Caribbean beats and inventing the only music that is truly American -- jazz.
New Orleans is now a silent ghost town. Its half-million souls have been displaced in the largest evacuation in U.S. history. During our tour of the city, Marsalis spotted a holdout near the Superdome, who, like him, is focused on rebirth.
We stopped and spoke to him as he swept the street. His name is Joseph Nathan Glover. He told us he refused to follow the order to evacuate after the flooding.
"I would've been evacuated, too, but I have two dogs. So I stayed here with my dogs and I'm cleaning up this block because I live here," he said.
Glover was unbowed by the destruction that surrounded him and was wasting no time picking up the pieces. "We've got to start somewhere. So let's start cleaning it up. Then, we'll start building it up," he said.
Marsalis wasn't surprised by Glover's incredible spirit. "You see what I mean?" he told Roberts, referring to Glover's determined optimism.
We then took a ride in the putrid, toxic floodwaters still standing in many of New Orleans' historic districts. When it finally recedes, entire neighborhoods, part of Marsalis' childhood, will almost certainly have to be destroyed.
But Marsalis is hoping that New Orleans will experience a renewal as it is rebuilt. "I'm satisfied that we will rebuild the city. Still, what remains to be seen is will we go back to being that frat house-type of low level, or will we go back to trying to be greater than the grandest days, with great musicians, with great traditions, with great education?" he asked.
"It's not to try to recreate it that's impossible, but to try to live in the spirit of it."
In Baton Rouge, Marsalis celebrated survival with his old friend, sax player Wes "Warmdaddy" Anderson. When the music started, they left their worries behind.
Whatever happens to New Orleans, we found a tiny room 100 miles away where it's being rebuilt note by note, where there's a magical, everlasting resemblance between Marsalis' music and the town that inspired it.
New Orleans may have been battered, flooded and nearly emptied of its citizens, but its legacy -- all the emotions it stirred, all the once-in-a-lifetime moments that were left behind -- was safe in Marsalis and in the music.
Someday the music and the city will be reunited. And what a day that will be.