As I was walking down Bourbon Street near the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, I finally came upon what I had been looking for all afternoon, a brass band, although it wasn’t one I had heard of, but rather a new band called the Legacy Brass Band. One of the signs that New Orleans’ brass band scene is healthy is the constant appearance of new brass bands in the city, and the relative youth of the members. The Legacy proved to be a good-sounding band with good arrangements, and the ability to attract a crowd. I was impressed with the slogan on the back of their shirts, “Music Is Not A Crime”, a reference to the city’s recent crackdowns on live music that have made brass band appearances rarer outside of night clubs or second-line parades. Far sadder was a handwritten eulogy on the bass drummer’s drumhead, in memory of someone named Big Whoop who presumably was killed, an all-too-often occurrence in New Orleans. The good news is that brass bands and the opportunity to become musicians are significant lures to young men and significant deterrents to crime and violence.
I walked from the Convention Center to Lustre Pearl and arrived in what I thought would be plenty of time for the Hot 8 Brass Band performance, but when I got there, nobody was being allowed in because there was already a significant crowd inside. People were allowed in as others left, but while we were still waiting in line, the band started playing. Fortunately I got inside soon afterward, but it turned out that the Hot 8 were booked alongside a comedian, which I could have done without. He was funny, to be sure, but I came to hear great New Orleans brass band music, not jokes. Still, the Hot 8 were excellent as always, and it was fun being outside in the early evening.
The Downtown NOLA Party was held at the Lucky Lounge, which I seem to remember being Antone’s at one time, and as soon as I walked in, I ran into members of The Stooges Brass Band, one of my favorite New Orleans groups. The place was somewhat crowded, but not uncomfortably so, and the Stooges had been hired to provide the music which they did, with a more indoor version of their group featuring a set drummer and keyboard player rather than the street style they typically display outdoors. Still it was upbeat and fun, and was apparently being sponsored as an opportunity to lure tech businesses to downtown New Orleans. Toward the end of the evening, an unexpected guest appeared, the legendary Bushwick Bill from the Geto Boys. He joined the Stooges on stage for a freestyle before the end of the evening.
Of course, the highlight of the night for me was getting to see my absolute favorite New Orleans brass band, the TBC Brass Band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. These young men, most of them from the 9th Ward, had only recently come together prior to Hurricane Katrina, and for a time it seemed that the storm might have brought the band’s brief existence to an end, with members scattered to other cities. But the To Be Continued Brass Band beat the odds and came back together in New Orleans, and is a group that brings a rough, defiant, hip-hop attitude to the world of brass band music. So I was somewhat amazed to hear them start their Blue Nile set with a couple of tunes from the traditional brass band and jazz repertoire, something I had never heard them do before. Their reading of “I Found A New Baby” was joyful, upbeat and flawless, with a skill that belies their youth, and was a tribute to their versatility as a band. Eventually the set moved into their usual more contemporary material, but I left at the end of their show with a whole new respect for the TBC’s musicianship.
I had no problem finding free legal parking on Esplanade, and when I made the short walk over to Frenchmen Street, I was surprised to find a large brass band playing on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres, opposite the Praline Connection, and the old corner where brass bands used to play, which was now occupied by a building under construction. I was somewhat surprised, because over the last couple of years, police have made a point of harassing brass bands on Frenchmen Street and running them off the street for lack of the appropriate city permits. Tonight they seemed to be playing to their hundred or so fans unmolested, and I could only assume that the current tolerance was due to two factors, the current mayoral election, where Mitch Landrieu is running for reelection, opposed by a couple of African-American candidates, and the city council’s current efforts to pass a restrictive noise ordinance. Mayor Landrieu probably would not want to strengthen his opponents by heavy police crackdowns on predominantly-Black brass bands, and with the city council trying to secretly pass a new noise ordinance, and already drawing opposition from musicians and community advocates, they would hardly want to animate the opponents by police harassment of the bands either. I even saw a brass band on Bourbon Street near Canal, the first one allowed to stay there in two years! At any rate, the brass band playing under the brightly-painted eaves of Yuki’s building proved to be the Young Fellaz Brass Band, a band closely associated with Frenchmen Street, where they first came to public prominence. They are really a lot of fun.
Dinerral Shavers was the snare drummer in the Hot 8 Brass Band, so it was very appropriate that the Hot 8 closed out the night of entertainment in his memory at the Howlin Wolf in New Orleans. The largest dance crowd of the night piled into the area in front of the stage, and it was touching to see Shavers’ mother dancing with his picture. But best of all was to know that not only did we have a good time, but that the proceeds from our fun will go to help young people in New Orleans avoid the pitfalls of the streets. That’s worth paying the price of admission ten times, in my opinion, and means that Dinerral Shavers still lives in his city, and continues to have a major impact on youth.
The New Breed Brass Band in one of New Orleans’ youngest bands, founded in 2012 by young men who had played in various high-school bands around New Orleans. Despite their youthfulness, they are accomplished musicians, and are gaining a following around the city.
The Free Agents Brass Band are yet another fairly recent New Orleans band which is best known for their post-Katrina anthem “We Made It Through That Water”, which was prominently featured in the HBO television series Treme. This was my first opportunity to hear them, and I was impressed. Apparently, so were a lot of others in the crowd, as a number of dancers took to the floor.
Dinerral Shavers was a snare drummer for the popular Hot 8 Brass Band in New Orleans, and a well-loved teacher at a local high school when he was abruptly murdered in early 2007 by a teenager who had been feuding with his stepson. Out of the tragedy has come an organization set up in Shavers’ memory by his relatives, a foundation that supports the arts, music, culture and anti-violence initiatives in New Orleans, and so on Saturday, January 11, 2014, the Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund sponsored a “brass band blow-out” at the popular Howlin Wolf music venue in the Central Business District. The evening began just after 9:30 PM with a new band, the Most Wanted Brass Band, many of whose members have come from other area bands, such as the Stooges. As such, the band is new, but the members are seasoned veterans and it is a good and tight aggregation overall. What started as a sparse crowd soon filled up, and eventually, the dancers took over the area nearest the stage.