If you follow me on Instagram then you will definitely recognize Ella Campbell because she has been a model for product shoots many, many times! I first met Ella a few years ago when I was working at Tchoup Industries. We quickly formed a wonderful, creative fueled friendship! She's a craft night buddy and a Mardi Gras champion (she embodied Lisa Frank this year and it was fantastic). She's passionate, and thoughtful, and honest in everything she does. Listening to her talk about how she feels about New Orleans Jazz made my heart so happy. This is only part one of our interview! Part two features more information about Ella's visual art and is coming soon!
Where are you from?
I’m from Ann Arbor Michigan
Is that where all your family is from?
That’s where my immediate family lives. My brother was born in Chicago and then my family moved to Ann Arbor and that's where I was born. My moms family is from Jackson Michigan and before that from a city outside of Krakow in Poland and then my dads family is from Ohio and I don’t know much beyond that about my dads side of the family.
What was it like growing up in Ann Arbor?
I went to catholic elementary school and that was a small class and it was the same class from kindergarten through 6th grade. And then I begged my parents to let me to go to public school so then 7th and 8th I was at a public middle and then public high school. Ann Arbor is a pretty affluent place because it’s a hub of a University and a Hospital so the schools are pretty good and people value the performing arts and things like that. So when I was a teenager I was in band and jazz band and marching band and even younger than that I remember taking some art classes with my best friend at the time. I think the affluence of the city is what made the arts so possible there for us to have really big high school band programs because the parents of those students could afford to donate to the band association and make sure we could all go to an awesome band camp and things like that
Were you into visual art as a kid or was it mostly music?
I remember when I was really little wanting to be a Pixar animation artist and then I would try to copy what the characters looked like in Calvin and Hobbes. So I remember trying and failing, and trying and failing at drawing Susie. And I had a stuffed animal tiger that I named Hobbes. So when I was little I was doing visual arts. And when I was in middle school I did paint a mural in our middle school.
Was it something you came up with the concept or was it a class thing?
It was a concept we had learned in class which was when we were studying perspective. So I learned that when you draw a bunch of straight lines it can look like a curve that’s almost 3 dimensional looking. I did like an abstract piece of a bunch of those straight lines forming curves and then shading it in with colors to accentuate that. But we had a ton of murals in my middle school and it was all done by students.
That was public school?
Yes, not the catholic school. But I did start band in catholic school so we did have a general art class and a general band class. Yeah I guess I haven’t even thought about how much visual art I’ve done. Like I remember now making a paper mache sculpture of a dinosaur that Calvin and Hobbes find.
So basically it all revolves around Calvin and Hobbes?
I feel like Calvin and Hobbes are my mentors. Yeah they find a bunch of tin cans and bottles in their backyard and they stack it to look like a dinosaur and they’re like look we found a dinosaur! So then I made a paper mache silhouette of that dinosaur with like bottles and cans and cups and stuff. And I liked making collages and greeting cards as peoples greeting cards in high school but I wasn’t in any visual art classes in school, it was all band.
Did you continue to do music when you went into college?
Yes, I studied jazz performance. When I say I studied jazz performance people understand that I play saxophone. But the title of the degree is jazz studies and sometimes people think that means like I did ethnomusicology or something. So I did jazz studies and that means that I was a saxophone performance major.
So it’s just specific to saxophone?
Yeah, I mean we did have to learn how to play keyboard and things like that but since it wasn’t a music education degree I didn’t have to learn how to play every instrument. So I played music all through college because that was my major. Didn’t do any of the marching band or anything like that.
Did you go to school in Michigan?
Yeah I went to Michigan State in Lansing. I was an hour away from home. I met an awesome friend there going in blind as roommates. She was a hospitality major and I remember us stalking each other on Facebook before we got to school and like she was a cheerleader and I was in band and we were like how is this even gonna work?? But we still keep in touch - she’s amazing. I met some really awesome people while I was in that program that are still amazing friends of mine.
So you went to school for Jazz Studies but what did you want to do with that - did you want to play music full time?
Well I was always also doing something else. So I always had internships at like music festivals, or music presenter companies, or was working with Lansing local musicians not necessarily people in the school of music. And my goal was really to just stay in the industry. I love playing saxophone and I still play sometimes but I also loved doing like I had a marketing internship while I was in college at the Detroit Jazz Festival and I love working with my supervisor there Chris Herrington. He is one of the hardest working men in show business. He was doing the marketing for the Detroit Jazz Festival and now he works at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He’s just outstanding so I really enjoyed working there. So I was always doing non performance stuff on the side.
So after college is that when you moved to New Orleans?
No, I moved to New Orleans a few years after college. I spent some time in Ann Arbor working at the then Ann Arbor School for Performing Arts now it’s called the Community Music School of Ann Arbor. That’s where I took some of my first jazz classes before I got to high school. And in that program, I met people from 7th grade that I still keep in touch with. The trajectory of going and working at that school is pretty awesome because I went from being a student there to being a student at Michigan State where one of their graduate assistants was the saxophone teacher at that school and then when he moved he recommended me to be the next saxophone teacher at that school so it was very cool to like be in this mini saxophone lineage at this Community Art School. So that was the first job I had, and I was doing landscaping, and playing a lot of gigs.
What made you make the decision to move from Michigan to Louisiana?
I got a job with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. I worked there for 2 years and they went through some financial issues and had to lay off a lot of the staff. So after that 2 years of working there, which was amazing and fun and I gained a lot of different experiences, I started working at Tchoup industries. So with the jazz orchestra I was doing merchandise on the road and so then I got a job at Tchoup kind of almost doing a very similar thing taking merchandise on the road except it was backpacks instead of cds and shirts.
Was it a culture shock when you moved down here?
Yes, in a few different ways. Everything from relearning what fresh produce means. Like here it means seafood and people think of the seasons by different seafood. And I was thinking of seasons by like apples and then cherries. So like the seasons are different so the food is different. And people think of the seasons different so like there’s just all of that in day to day life the food is different, the weather is different. And then there’s also what I thought standards were. Like when you go to school for jazz you learn this set of songs that kind of everybody is expected to know those songs. And when I moved down here what people think of as jazz is different. The piano is a lot heavier, it’s very close to blues and rock and soul. So then it was also all of my training like I was like where do I even put this? Like what? I learned all the wrong songs! I didn’t want to move here without having a job in place so I had been wanting to move before I got the job at the jazz orchestra. But part of wanting to move down here was I wanted to honor the city that made all this music that I had spent years and years of my life learning. And then when I got down here I was like oh my gosh wait, no this is the actual living version of that music and we are all like 40 years behind.
I don’t know what the jazz or music culture is like in Ann Arbor - it seems like a creative city but did it feel different to be in a city where jazz is so integrated in everyone's life whether they’re a musician or not?
Yes, because jazz is on more of a pedestal almost in Michigan and here it’s still alive. It’s living and breathing and moving. You learn about all of these thing - you learn about Congo Square and you learn about brass bands and you learn about funerals and you learn all of that in the history of the music and to see that it is all still a tradition was mind boggling. And I knew, like I logically knew that all of that still happened here but being here has been so joyful to see all of these things that I’ve spent so long learning about living and breathing and is real. Like seeing all these buildings that you always see with old pictures of some of the first jazz musicians. It makes everything so tangible. Even though we have recordings of Louis Armstrong and we have recordings of Jelly Roll Morton, seeing all of these faces makes all of that music so much more tangible.
You said it’s living and breathing - like it's a new version of it here. Is there a specific musician or band around playing newer jazz music that you like?
Well the thing, is when I say it’s newer it’s that maybe it’s not that its newer it’s just that we study the tradition as if it has been lost. We studied it as if brass bands were the beginning of jazz and now this is what we play. But the brass bands are still playing. And a lot of them play similar songs in the same repertoire as each other and some of that’s really old repertoire. But it’s still an honest part of life here and when you study it far away from New Orleans it sounds like it doesn’t exist anymore. So I guess that’s what I mean by it being living and breathing; not necessarily that it’s new songs. Although, they are playing new songs - they're playing covers of songs we listen to on the radio and stuff like that. But that’s what jazz always has been - has been covers of popular music played by instruments. I guess there was a culture shock of I knew brass bands existed but they don’t exist in the way Jazz at Lincoln Center exists which is as a museum of the music. Which Jazz at Lincoln Center is a band closer to like what Duke Ellington would have been in and they play a lot of Duke Ellington's music as well. But this is not a museum of the tradition - it still is a valid, tangible, normal part of the culture of the city here. It’s really cool. And a lot of the brass bands have their own spin on popular songs now. And there are so many in this city that it’s hard to name just one doing it because also everybody plays with each other.
Do you have a favorite venue to go to listen to jazz bands or are you mostly going out to see your friends play?
Well I love going to see my friends play. There’s kind of like my favorite schedule in New Orleans. Monday and Tuesday at Maple Leaf, Wednesday at the Jazz Market, I think it’s Wednesdays or Thursdays at Prime Example but I haven’t been in a while but I love going to see up and coming musicians at Prime Example at the jam sessions that they have. There’s also an awesome like comedy scene here. So I love going to see the recitals of peoples improv shows. There’s a big comedy festival here, or that is big to us it might not be to other people, called hell yes fest. There’s other cool stuff to see too. But back to my schedule I also like seeing the bands they choose to play at Bacchanal. Those are some really cool young musicians that they choose to perform there. And Germaine Bazzle on Sundays at the Playhouse. I’ve heard of a new session that I think is gonna be really good that I just haven’t had the chance to go yet at the Starlight on Sundays. So there’s definitely a rhythm that I like in the city that’s like oh one band I can’t choose, don’t make me do that.
So we talked a lot about music and jazz but that’s not the only avenue of art that you’re interested in
It’s not and we’ve talked so long about jazz.
But that’s so much of your background is music. But is music still your favorite form of art or do you prefer more visual?
I can’t choose but right now I make more visual art and I’m having a lot of fun with that. It’s all just fun to me and just because it looks fun doesn’t mean that sometimes I’m not leaning into my rage and making things out of that too. Like the biggest painting that I have was me leaning into a moment of ptsd - I called it trapping my ghosts on that canvas.
Do you want to talk more about that piece - how you made it?
That piece was made from a bunch of flashbacks that I had of different ways that I’ve fallen down since one of my legs is weaker than the other one. So there are just times that I’ve slipped or not seen something or things like that and since my left leg is weaker it collapses. And so one day I was having an anxiety attack where I was seeing all of the flashes of the different times that I’ve fallen. So I had assistance help me paint my body and then they helped me lay down in all of the different positions that I had fallen down in. So I was making like a stamp out of myself of each of those flashes that I was having from that moment of an anxiety attack because of ptsd. In those moments where I’m leaning into something painful like that it takes me barely any time to get the art out. That was within two days. Natalita, she’s an amazing artist in her own right. She’s a singer and she makes soundscapes for visual installations of different museums and things. She came over and helped me on the first day and then another visual artist named Shawn Clark who is also amazing in his own right came over and helped me on the other day. So i finished that painting from the idea of it to the end of it in like a few days of work because that’s what happens when I lean into something that is an idea born out of something painful. And then the things that are like oh that would be funny take me forever to do.
Does the visual art feel more therapeutic?
Sometimes. And I think it’s mostly to do with the social element of making visual art versus making music. For music, at this point I essentially play with the same band called the Nola Dukes and that band is comprised of 3 of my best friends. So there’s a very joyful social element to that but there’s also stress because they are so phenomenal and I am not as phenomenal as they are. And so there’s definitely an element of self consciousness or nervousness. Not necessarily because of stage fright but because they’re really good. And with the visual art it’s just me in my apartment with my cat listening to podcasts - no social pressure there whatsoever. Just doing my thing and like my painting is like I hope this reminds someone of the carpet at their favorite laser tag place. Or like I just want it to make something think of cartoons from when they were little. Like the difference for me is in the social aspect of it and not necessary the performance of it. Because I want to make my friends proud and I want to make sure they had a good gig and then I want to be a good side man for them and that’s Emily Fredrickson, Ricio Fruge, and Bailey Flores and they’re my core group of friends and musicians down here. And I definitely love being their cheerleader because they’re all outstanding. But yeah I wouldn’t say that I enjoy one more than the other it’s just that socially they’re so different that they serve very different purposes.
So for your visual art you do some it under the name Raymond Street Ruckus
Yes, Raymond Street Ruckus is the name of my platform.
Do you want to tell me about it and the story behind it?
Yes so the name is from my best, best bud of my whole life. She and I grew up down the block from each other. Her name is Melika Belhaj, she came up with the name Raymond Street Ruckus. She doesn’t run anything of it with me it’s just the name was born of the fact that I played music, one of our other neighbors played music as well as his daughter, Melika and her brother are also musicians. And so there were like block parties that we would have where all of us would end up playing music at some point and Melika wanted to start a band called Raymond Street Ruckus of all of us. I loved that name cause it has to do with where I’m from, I grew up on Raymond street, and I love the term ruckus - that was also the name of the off season drum line at my high school they were the ruckus. The name means a lot to me and it’s essentially my umbrella for my visual art and offering services to other musicians and artists as needed. I’m trying to come up with a way to be somewhere between having a full time manager as an artist or musician and having no manager at all because I know some folks can’t really have a full time manager - it’s kind of expensive. So I just want to be able to have little templates of things ready to go for when musicians need like that next step. I just recently launched a services page that has templates of contracts, stage plots which is the layout that you give a festival or a venue that you’re gonna perform at that says this is where I need my microphone, this is where I need the piano to be, this is where I need the drums to be, so it’s like a birds eye view of the stage. And there are some musicians that have been like oh they asked me to send a tech writer what is a tech writer. So I have templates of that, templates of contracts. I have like I’ll edit the merchandise photos if they have a Square Space or they have Shopify or they have something to sell their bands merchandise then I offer send me 10 photos, I’ll edit them and send them back for this amount of money. And so it’s very cut and dry it’s very clear beginning and clear end. Flat fee for people who want to do the next step without signing with or having a full time manager or something like that. Someone who still want to do things independently but needs the next step so that’s like the services side of it. Or if someone needed somebody on site to sell merchandise or something like that. And then the other side is right now all of my own visual art. I’m trying to use my visual art to build up enough cash as a side hustle so that I can wholesale things from other artists and also sell them on the website. So I call it micro distribution so like a local comic book artist could sell me 5 copies because I know it’s expensive for them to print themselves and maybe they don’t want to have just 5 copies somewhere else so I hope to offer to buy small increments of peoples work to sell on the platform as well.
Other than having other artist on the website, what is the big goal?
The crazy dream is opening a concert house. So just a physical representation of what the website is.
While we’re dreaming, where is it? Is it in New Orleans?
I was thinking it could be in New Orleans because there’s a lot of musicians halfway right now. They are gigging all the time, they don’t have a day job, they’re sustaining their lifestyle by just playing music, and also want to continue to be independent artist so I think it would be a fine place to do it here. I think it would be cool to be in a renovated historic home or something like that. So we’re also preserving architectural history and providing an intimate concert setting. And this is all inspired by a place in Ann Arbor called the Kerrytown Concert House which is an old house that they fixed up into like an 80 seat venue and it’s really cool to see music there. It’s a way to see intimate music in a small crowd that’s not like a standing room only at a sticky bar. It’s still rows of seating and there is a bar if you wanted to get a drink but there are so many venues here that are like sticky floor, standing room only type of place. I would love to have something where the audience is a similar size but it’s clean and it’s in a beautiful space. There’s like a gift shop - something that you would see even at a performing arts center but just totally, totally, teeny tiny. And then during the day is a resource center for artist. So like all of the very finite services on the website our musicians could come in and we would have like a volunteer lawyer or somebody that would be on call for us to help musicians or maybe once a month could host something. So like the crazy dream of it is a resource center that’s also a concert house that’s also a gift shop. And even bigger dream is we would have a festival once a year and it would be bonkers. Ruckus fest. Which I already have planned in my brain too.
So do you see yourself as a New Orleanian for life?
I don’t know. I’m open to wherever work takes me. One of my friends sayings is..well like her thinking is a little apocalyptic but realistic at the same time which is New Orleans is going to fall into the ocean any time so let’s just live here till it does. Which to me is a totally valid thing. So I don’t know if I’m a lifer. I think I would be really sad somewhere else because I’ve already gone to parties in other cities and I’m like in Washington DC there was a little party that I was really excited about at this bar. They were hosting a Prince and J Dilla party and I was like sign me up I want to go. And then I get there. Well first I’m flying Spirit so I do not have much room. I have my Tchoup Industries Roulez Pack (shoutout) and I bedazzle a pair of shoes that I packed in that backpack so like a lot of valuable space was taken up by a pair of purple bedazzled shoes that I made. I had purple pants, I had a J Dilla shirt. My friend shows up in a purple sequin robe/kimono thing. Like we’re ready for this party and we get there and it’s just people sitting at a bar and we were like umm. So if that’s what other cities are like I would maybe be a little sad but maybe that was just one.
Maybe it was just a sad bar and they don’t know how to throw a party.
But imagine if someone had thrown a prince themed party in New Orleans. It would be bonkers. I mean they did a second line for him. People here are ready.
I went to Cochon in a Goorin Brothers hat - well Goorin Brothers makes really nice hats and I managed to find the only obnoxious one they make. And it’s this navy/military/marching band style hat that’s humongous. Like the size of Frisbee or bigger and gold. Like metallic gold. And a marching band-esque jacket from Bebe - do you remember Bebe? Do you remember how cool that was when you were 17? So I had that jacket on and muddy boots from voodoo fest and it was fine. That’s the type of stuff that makes me weary to leave. But if meaningful work presented itself I would prioritize that because screw it I’ll just wear my outfits to a boring bar and be like a chupacabra.