Wynton Marsalis' Journey to New Orleans

ByABC News
September 16, 2005, 5:15 PM

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.