Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Orleans Brass Band: Some Final Thoughts

After my survey of these bands and films and other media that focus on them I am most struck by the wide variety of different sounds you can listen to within a single genre. As many of us have written about and spoken about this semester it seems especially important to take these ideas and apply them to more traditional settings and ensembles in order to stay relevant in a changing musical landscape.

One way to do this is creating music in this style that's meant for the concert hall, or by creating local music performance series based on performing music from a variety of different cultures rather than only the western art music tradition. I will absolutely continue to research different bands and new music, but the topic of this blog will probably shift to a more personal use to give me a landing place to write about different musical goings on. With that in mind Stay tuned this week for posts about Louis Hanzlik's visit to the university of Iowa!

Youngblood Brass Band

The Youngblood Bass Band, while not from New Orleans, was my first exposure to this genre about 8 years ago. My friends and I became infatuated with the hip-hop influenced jazz sound that they produced, and tried to emulate that style for a few years ourselves with varying degrees of success.

What I continue to come back to with Youngblood are two features I believe continue to distinguish them from other groups. Those are the high level of technical and musical skill exhibited by members of the band, and their dedication to educational outreach. Many bands have a high level of skill, but the education component is especially important to growing the genre and getting kids excited about making music in general. It may just be a shrewd business decision, but I think making their sheet music available for purchase is a great way to help sell band directors and schools on the idea of having a brass band as part of the curriculum. I think their existence speaks to this musics ability to travel and make its way into the culture, even in central Wisconsin. So, with that in mind I've included a tune, that I've spent time with transcribing that captures the New Orleans spirit even with a band from far far away.

The Soul Rebels Brass Band

The Soul Rebels are a slightly newer New Orleans based band that has taken the more traditional New Orleans sound into the sphere of collaboration that Trombone Shorty uses. They have performed with artists such as Nad, Mclemore, Lettuce, and Kool and the Gang. One recording I found that is a great example of these live collaborations, and the way the brass band style shows through the glitter of pop music is their collaboration with New Orleans jam band, Galactic.

I like the way the two bands blend together with the march out and how the jam band style works seamlessly within the brass band. This is sounds fairly similar to more recent recordings of groups such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but I like how this group has kept their instrumentation to the traditional brass band while using outside groups to stretch their pop music muscles.

The Whole Gritty City

Another film I haven't had time to consume, but think its important to bring to your attention is The Whole Gritty City. This documentary focus on the challenges faced by school aged children who happen to participate in their school marching bands. The first thing I wanted to point out is that the marching bands it focuses on are not a part of the "school marching band tradition" but rather a part of the New Orleans style brass band tradition.

This is absolutely a film I need to watch as it combines music that I love with my wife's commitment to serving in the community. As I pointed out in an earlier post, anything we can do as musicians to expose students to our music while giving them the skills needed just to get through life is absolutely vital. And from what I've read about his film, this is a fantastic demonstration of that fact. Another thing this film, and it's trailer, brings to my mind is how strong the connection is between southern style marching bands and New Orleans style brass band music, but that's a topic for a different class.

Olympia Brass Band

the Olympia Brass Band has been around in some form dating all the way back to the late 1800's. They are another more traditional sounding band, but what I believe separates them, in addition to their longevity, is the way they have recorded traditional tunes in a traditional way. One could argue that this is not as valuable as putting a fresh spin on old material, but I like how it preserves this music for future generations to listen to. I've included their 2008 release, appropriately titled, New Orleans Jazz Preservation below.

This album contains a wide variety of different styles of New Orleans brass band and jazz music, but my favorite tunes are the slower ones. This is where the "party" atmosphere I have referenced often on this blog fades away and you have the opportunity to hear individual players make beautiful music. I strongly suggest checking out the song "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" as an example of this slower funeral style music.

Trombone Shorty

In contrast to the more traditional sounds of Treme and Algiers, Trombone Shorty is perhaps an artist best known for taking the New Orleans style genre and turning it on its head. While this is not a brass band in the traditional sense I think it's important to point out where Trombone Shorty and his backing band, Orleans Avenue, came from musically and how the mostly hip-hop and jazz music they perform relates back to the more traditional style of brass band music.

According to his website bio page, Trombone Shorty, Troy Andrews, grew up in New Orleans playing in brass bands and attended the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts high school where he received formal training. I think that part of his history helps to put his more recent music in perspective as an evolution of the brass band style.

While his most recent release, No Good Time, bares little resemblance to brass band or traditional music the song, Quiet and Kept, off his 2010 album Backatown demonstrates the musical heritage that he came up in.

I enjoy the way this track captures elements of the brass band sound such as group improvisation and second line beats while also bringing in more popular elements such as guitar and other electronic manipulation. I believe music like this is important for connecting the genre as it existed in the past to what it needs to become to stay commercially viable in the current age of hip-hop.

Algiers Brass Band

Another "traditional" style brass band similar to the Treme Brass Band, the Algiers Brass Band has a reputation for producing a more traditional funeral band sound. I was unsure whether it would be appropriate to include this band in a post since most of what I found online indicates that they are mostly a band for hire. I gave it some thought, and decided to include them, because I think these lesser known bands are the most important bands to the fabric of their community.

In the above recording from 1999 you can here the influence of dixieland music on this traditional parade tune. It calls to mind some of the earliest jazz recordings that I've listened to. I thought my focus on these posts would take me more to the hip-hop and funk oriented records that I've enjoyed listening to for years, but I've found this older style to be equally enjoyable. One thing I love about this recording are all the little details you can uncover on each successive listening, whether it's the sweeping clarinet lines, small intricacies in beat pattern on the snare drum, or the somewhat out of tune melody in the trumpets. This music has life even on a record.