Student Profile: Taylor Boillotat
New Orleans native Taylor Boillotat considers herself lucky to have even made it to Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program. When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August 2005, Boillotat's family weathered the storm at her grandparents' house in Folsom, a village on the northern side of Lake Pontchartrain. They had to saw themselves out afterwards—trees fell on her mother's and her grandparents' cars—but everyone was okay. However, when September passed without electricity and school still hadn't restarted, Boillotat worried that it would be the end of her studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
The school hadn't had any flooding, but there was a lot of wind and rain damage, and the National Guard was still being housed on campus. Army cots littered the dance floor. NOCCA immediately began contacting its students with information on schools across the country offering assistance. Letters were posted in the cafeteria and online with generous offers and scholarship opportunities for NOCCA students.
"Herbert Hoover High School in California even had a band concert and donated all their money to us," says Boillotat. "It was just amazing."
"We were thinking about sending me to a school in New York—they had all these host families that would house me," says Boillotat. "But I just couldn't leave. I needed to help out." Her sister, a senior at NOCCA, had transferred to North Carolina School for the Arts on a full scholarship, and her absence was hard on their mom. And Boillotat's loyalty to NOCCA wouldn't let her abandon it.
"I love New Orleans, and NOCCA has helped me so much," says Boillotat. "Just the people and everything about it has totally changed my life for the better."
Boillotat had started at NOCCA a year earlier than most—while she was still in the eighth grade. Her older sister had been studying drama at the school for years, so she already knew that it was where she wanted to go to focus on the saxophone. Its jazz program had been attended and taught by jazz greats such as Donald Harrison and Branford Marsalis. "My [other] school didn't even have a jazz band. I'd never played jazz before," says Boillotat.
Well before she planned on attending, Boillotat set up a meeting with the head of the jazz program for advice on how to prepare herself for the highly competitive school. He encouraged her to take private lessons from Bryce Winston and even arranged for NOCCA to pay for them. Soon she was attending the school on weekends.
Boillotat looked forward to her freshman year, when she could begin attending NOCCA half days during the week. The other half would be spent at Patrick Taylor Science and Technology. But she'd only been at the school for two weeks when Katrina hit, effectively putting her life on hold.
Finally, in January 2006, NOCCA reopened. Boillotat's lessons accelerated to make up for the lost time, and her playing improved markedly. She even played with a NOCCA ensemble at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—her first time ever attending the festival was onstage. "I even got to announce the song," says Boillotat.
By the time summer rolled around, she had received scholarships from both NOCCA and Berklee College of Music to attend Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program.
"I want to take advantage of everything here, because I want to leave here a totally different musician," says Boillotat. "I'm going to a lot of the concerts that they have and I find that I'm taking advantage of a lot of the teacher's office hours. I'll go down to the basement [of 150 Mass. Ave.] and listen to different people play and just kind of sit in. I love doing that."
Interacting with other students in the five-week program, Boillotat saw how lucky she was to grow up in New Orleans, surrounded by music. "I talked to this one boy from Puerto Rico, and he gets a jazz station once a week from midnight to two," says Boillotat. "I really have realized how fortunate I am. . . . I feel like I've gotten a huge head start."
Taylor's Top Five Songs
- "Footprints" - Wayne Shorter
- "St. James Infirmary" - as performed by Louis Armstrong
- "Black Narcissus" - Joe Henderson
- "Song for My Father" - Horace Silver
- "Take Five" - Dave Brubeck