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.

The Roots of Music

Another non music related item I believe is much more important tan pointing you towards watching a prestige cable drama is directing you to the many different ways bands have engaged to support the communities they live in as well as other parts of the country.

The Rebirth Brass Band was affiliated with the founding go the Roots of Music, which is an after school program where students have the opportunity to learn instruments and perform New Orleans style brass music. The academy now serves over 140 students who participate in a parade band during Mardi Gras season.

I like how this organization serves multiple important purposes. It provides kids with an activity and a place that keeps them off the street during the late afternoon and early evening hours, provides music for the community, and helps teach students a skill that they can build a career from.

This is just one example of the many ways this type of traditional music can be used to get students involved and excited about making music in their community. I know there are other programs that focus on classical, jazz, and rock music in other cities throughout the country, but I've often wondered about a program such as this would function where students receive classical music training on "band" instruments and then apply them to a popular music style. I'm certainly glad to have come across this organization.

Treme (The TV Show)

I wanted to take a quick break from just plowing through different bands to turn your attention to a HBO show that ran from 2010 to 2013 called Treme. David Simon, who was also the creator of The Wire created this show to dramatize the way the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans worked to come back from the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina and the government response that followed. I have not watched the whole series, but have caught a few episodes, and I love the way Simon uses a wide variety of characters, especially musicians, to show how vital each person is to their community.

Many of the New Orleans based acts I've posted about were featured on camera or on the soundtrack for many of the episodes. Critics have commented on how Simon effectively captures the spirit of New Orleans, and I was struck by how important brass band music is to the culture there. I realize that this is fictional, but I think that it's a fun way to get exposed to the culture I've been trying to write about.

Treme Brass Band

The Treme Brass Band may be one the most well known traditional New Orleans style brass bands. They have been featured in the documentary, Tradition is a Temple, and David Simon's television show, Treme. This band has been active since 1990 and dress in the style of early 1900's parade bands wearing white captain's hats, white shirts, black pants, and black shoes. I think it's important that this group has embraced the traditional New Orleans style, which is not to say there is anything wrong with bands that are trying to break the mold.

Treme Brass Band2.jpg
Photo by Tom Pich. -, Public Domain, Link
The way the Treme Brass Band has worked to preserve the earliest sounds of the genre works almost like a time capsule as other more popular bands continue to evolve around them. While evolution is an important part of any style of music, and is certainly something this style owes its existence to, it is nice to have a more traditional sound to refer back to. To demonstrate this "more traditional" sound I've included The Bugle Boy March, which show a more stripped down sound than other recordings I've chosen. They playing on this track is also less than perfect, which I think gives it life. I hope you enjoy it!

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is truly a link to a time long ago. Even though this band trends much closer to be a jazz ensemble than a brass band they demonstrate many elements of the New Orleans tradition, and I believe it's important to recognizing their contributions to the spread of the genre. They also exhibit style of early brass band and jazz music that musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet would have played before become known throughout the world.

One of the reasons this band has been effective in spreading the New Orleans style sound is that their large stable of musicians allows them to maintain their regular schedule at Preservation Hall in New Orleans while keeping up a grueling touring schedule. To me, and important part of this style is being able to experience in person, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has played a large roll in making that possible for as many people as they can.

I think the record included below, Santiago, demonstrates the way the PHJB blends brass band music with the modern jazz ensemble format. This particular track is based on a latin beat which is carried mainly in the piano. Over the top of the driving rhythm you can hear the traditional party atmosphere over the top in the brass and reed sections. One thing that continues to shock me when listening to these records is how bands can bring the spontaneous atmosphere of a live performance into the recording studio.

Rebirth Brass Band

A well known brass band that has been active since 1983, the Rebirth Brass Band, has positioned themselves as one a few New Orleans based innovators in the genre. They are considered one of the first bands to bring the funk influence to their music, and this "innovation" continues today. The band maintains a standing gig at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans which positions them as a true member of the New Orleans music community.

I've attached a spotify link to their 2011, Grammy winning, album, Rebirth of New Orleans, which contains some of the most traditional New Orleans style music I've posted so far. What I like about this album is the way they seamlessly mix elements of funk and other popular styles with strong roots in the New Orleans based tradition.

Brass Ensembles from Other Cultures

I really enjoyed this class and the exposure to music from other cultures. One of the things that struck me was how I could tie most of this music back to the New Orleans tradition I've been listening to and writing about periodically throughout the semester. Balkan brass band music and Banda seemed to have the greatest level of similarities both in terms of instrumentation and style of performance.

Despite the poor video quality I believe the video below does a fantastic job capturing the energy and musical quality of Band El Recordo, which is one of the most popular Banda groups in Mexico.

One of the things I like about this recording is how it strips away some of the over produced elements found on most Banda records. The energy and style of the music make it easy to see why it continues to be popular in both Mexico and in Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley. When living in Texas I was surprised by how many of my peers listened to Banda and Mariachi compared to other popular music. I wonder if New Orleans style brass bands were more commercial if their music would be just as popular in the United States.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cake Trio Recital: Why aren't there more recitals like this?

If you were playing word association games, I highly doubt the words, brass trio, would invoke the response, coffee shop, but that is exactly what people were treated to with Caleb, Anna, and Kenken's performance this past Sunday at the High Ground Cafe in Iowa City. The success of their performance helped me pull together some ideas floating around in my head regarding how, why and where we perform as brass musicians.

First, some background, back in February I came across this article in the New York Times about the world of open mic comedy in New York City. One idea that I took away from this is the amount of performing a comedian, amateur or professional, does to hone their craft in front of people. Really when you think about music, art music or pop music, has  broader audience than comedy, and can be performed in a wider variety of spaces. Another group of performers who log more time in front of live audiences are jazz performers who will relentlessly pursue opportunities to play at open mics and jam sessions where they can work on new material or play old material for a new audience. The new audience perspective adds another dimension to this idea, jazz musicians and comedians when traveling will often seek out the local mics and jams where they can meet new people and get performance reps in a new city. I've done quite a bit of traveling over the past three years, and in most of the cities my playing has been restricted to hotel rooms or my sister-in-laws back patio.

My goal moving forward is to find more untraditional venues to play in as a soloist, and with any ensembles I play in. To this this back to my topic on this blog, this is something that is very much a part of the New Orleans brass band tradition. Brass Bands play in bars, at funerals, in parades, in concert halls, and festivals. The portable and acoustic nature of our instruments allow brass ensembles to play really anywhere. So go out and play!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Listening Party

Fugue in D Minor (Originally in G) Arr. Mexi- Budapest Festival Horn Quartet

I really enjoy the different colors that the horns are able to access throughout this work. This allows the music to sound much more diverse aside from the trading of lines in the fugue. The low horn playing here was especially impressive.

Victory Fanfare Benjimann Blasko- Tromba Mundi w/ Wind Ensemble

This sounds quite Ewazen(y) to my ears especially at first. I don't mind the optimistic sounding melodic and harmonic ideas. The playing on this record is great overall, and I know the individuals in the ensemble are all fantastic. However, I'm not sure if I'm completely in love with trumpet ensemble as featured ensemble in a traditional sense. I feel as though with the contrast against a wind ensemble the trumpets sound brighter than they may be in real life, and this contrast leads to a less than ideal quality on the record.

Divertimento for Brass and Percussion Karel Husa- UNT Brass Choir

I forget how nice Husa's works are to listen to especially when they are executed this well. I'm much more familiar with Perseichetti and Dahl, which Husa reminds me of quite a bit in this piece.

Quidditch John Williams- Boston Symphony Brass

I enjoyed this short little arrangement, and think it could make a great piece to close a brass ensemble concert.

Jazz Suite for 4 Horns, Harpsichord, Guitar, Bass, and Drum Alec Wilder

I. Horns O' Plenty

Another composer I often forget about. I love the way Wilder brings harpsichord into the jazz idiom, which plays with expectations quite a bit. My favorite part of jazz music is how musicians create and then break expectations, and I believe Wilder accomplished that with the instrumentation here.