Bringing the swing of New Orleans brass to FestivALL
The Mayor's Concert and Wine and All That Jazz draw on favorite music from the Crescent City with the Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet, New Breed Brass Band, and the HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND!
by Tristram Lozaw
There's nothing like hearing a brass band up close for experiencing the essence of New Orleans and its music. Even, sometimes, when you aren't in New Orleans.
Funk and R&B drums and horn lines are played with wild abandon, producing instant bootybouncing parties in the streets. The contagious rhythms inspire listeners to fall into a "second line" parade of dancers behind the band. Moved inside, the musical ruckus has an undeniable energy vibe that clubs and concert stages can't confine, as the best brass bands expand on the idea of "jazz" as creative freedom.
That part of New Orleans' cultural heritage is alive in modern groups like the nine-piece New Breed Brass Band, opening for Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Mayor's Concert at the Clay Center, June 22.
Snare drummer Jenard Andrews says that as young musicians in New Orleans, the guys who would later make up New Breed Brass Band followed the paths of "what was going on around" them on the streets, eventually forming their own krewe. "We grew up with the second line, that was pretty much what we saw as kids, and we just started playing our instruments as part of our culture. It just makes just makes you want to jump in and join."
Brass band traditions run deep. Brass bands were early predecessors of jazz, dating to a time in the 19th century when social and pleasure clubs would provide funeral arrangements for poor black Southerners. The bands would often play funeral dirges as they followed the procession. Once the deceased's family was out of earshot, the music would turn into jubilant celebration, and onlookers in the street -- the original second liners -- would dance around and behind the musicians.
Now, move the trumpets, trombones, saxes and sousaphones through Dixieland, Preservation Hall, traditional jazz, groups including the Olympia, Tuxedo and Treme Brass Bands, and on to the late 1970s. The social clubs and brass bands were proud but dying institutions when the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club assembled a seven-piece house band that adopted the club's name. From there, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band kicked off the brass band resurgence, inspiring the Rebirth, then L'il Rascals, Stooges, Hot 8 and other funky Brass Bands -- and the renaissance we now take for granted.
New Breed was lucky to be part of a neighborhood family born of those traditions, a community that included James “12” Andrews, Topsy Chapman, Karl Leblanc, Sun-pie Barnes, and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews -- Jenard's uncle. (Trombone Shorty was a big hit at FestivALL 2015.) They sharpened their skills playing with family musicians, marching bands and concert ensembles until, following brass band influences including the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth and L'il Rascals Brass Bands -- "we looked up to them" -- New Breed broke off into their own krewe a few years back. Their debut album New Breed, due by September, was produced by Trombone Shorty, with whom they have been playing concert dates across the country.
"On the streets and in clubs we can just let loose. A lot of things happen live, on the spot," Jenard says, explaining how a different approach is needed to convey the group's raucous live dynamics on recordings. "In the studio that can take away from the [clarity of the] song, so we make sure we have a solid foundation to work with."
Most modern brass bands like to step out with a few cover songs, so it's not unusual to hear New Breed explore where they can take a tune by Earth Wind and Fire or a new hip-hop track. "We're still finding ourselves, with different styles and music," Jenard says. "The second-line [format] is great but it's pretty straight forward. We're trying to move it ahead and create new sounds for our city."
These days, those new sounds can happen outside the city. The New Orleans-style horn ensemble is no longer limited to the Crescent City, as musicians from Seattle to the Balkans have taken up the brass-band call. One is New York's HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND!, who are on the bill at Wine and All that Jazz on June 24 on the University of Charleston lawn with the Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet.
As a member of one New Orleans' royal families of music, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and many of his kin (including Ellis, Wynton, Branford, Jason) are star musicians noted for their dedicated involvement in music education efforts in the city. Since Delfeayo founded the Uptown Music Theater in 2000, it has trained over 300 of the New Orleans' youth and staged eight original musicals. Photo: Delfeayo on trombone with his father Ellis Marsalis, Jr,. on piano
Like New Breed, Delfeayo likes to venture into new musical territory. His latest CD, Make America Great Again delves into some funky hip-hopping and politically inspired poetry slamming. But it's the big, glorious sound of Delfeayo's 19-piece band as it takes the 14 tracks on a rhythm-and-horns ride that make the album shine. Much of that same brassy energy travels with the Delfaeyo Marsalis Quintet that comes to Charleston for FestivALL.
The Great Again CD was entitled with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "There will always be those who long for the 'good old days,' either because we weren't there or we've simply forgotten what those days were actually like," Delfeayo says on the album.
We're "a melting pot of diversity fighting a juggernaut of adversity." With their metropolitan mix of street funk and jazz with Latin swing, guitar and Afro-dancebeat elements , one might call Brooklyn's HIGH & MIGHT BRASS BAND! a "downtown" brass band. But with their custom-made enhancements of the second-line tradition, the H&MBB definitely keep a New Orleans lifeline in their music, having collaborated with Galactic and shared a stage with Rebirth Brass, Dr. John, and Trombone Shorty.
The nine-piece group, which sports members from New Orleans, New York and elsewhere, performed at Bonnaroo in 2014. HIGH AND MIGHTY describe themselves as "a party in progress," true to the NOLA brass band spirit, one that they bring every week as the Tuesday night house band at Apotheké in NYC. • Photo: High and Mighty Brass Band