Mary von Kurnatowski
Instruments A Comin’
New Orleans, Louisiana
“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music,” composer Sergei Rachmaninoff once wrote. For Mary von Kurnatowski, music has accidentally become her life’s work.
Like many a grand adventure, hers started without a map. She and husband Roland, both real estate entrepreneurs, had never expected to own a jazz club in New Orleans. “That was never on our radar!” Mary recalls. But when they found themselves in possession of N’awlins’ iconic Tipitina’s, they soon felt the beat. Believing that music is both an integral part of culture and a healthy outlet for youth, Mary founded Tipitina’s Foundation in 1999. Since then, its Instruments A Comin’ program has provided new band instruments for more than 50,000 children in the greater New Orleans area. (It also sent money for instruments to school bands in Japan after the tsunami; the grateful kids recorded “When the Saints Come Marching In” as a sort of musical thank-you note that went viral on YouTube.)
The foundation runs an internship program for young musicians—one alum is Troy Andrews, aka the jazz sensation Trombone Shorty. “He was offered a full scholarship but turned it down to go on tour with Lenny Kravitz,” the effervescent Mary exclaims.
During Sunday Music Workshops at Tipitina’s, professional musicians come to play and talk about their careers, then invite young people onto the stage to jam with them. “In certain circles of music aficionados, Tipitina’s is a world-class shrine,” says Mary. “Mothers have told me their kids now won’t wear any other shoes than the ones they wore when they walked on that stage.”