Brass Bands Clash on Frenchmen Street


Later in the evening, my homebody Darren Towns of the TBC Brass Band had a gig with a pick-up band of musicians from various brass bands for a birthday party at Vaso, a club on Frenchmen Street. Since the City of New Orleans had put a stop to brass bands playing at the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets in the Quarter around 2009 or so, bands often frequent Frenchmen, a funky, music street that appeals more to locals than tourists, although the police will occasionally run brass bands away from the Marigny neighborhood as well. On this occasion, the birthday girl wanted the band to parade up Frenchmen Street from Vaso to the intersection with Chartres Street and back, but at Chartres, there was another brass band playing at the entrance to a brightly-colored building that has always reminded me of the Caribbean. At least one of their musicians was wearing a shirt for the Young & Talented Brass Band, but Darren told me that the band was comprised of musicians from several different brass bands. As is often the case in New Orleans, the two bands confronted each other, although in a friendly manner, and they quickly locked in with each other on a version of the brass band standard “Tuba Fats”. The crowds of locals and tourists in the intersection near The Praline Connection were thrilled. Eventually, our band headed back down toward Vaso, leaving the other one on their corner. It was one of those serendipitous musical moments that happen frequently in the Crescent City.

The Young Fellaz Brass Band Live at @VASO_NOLA

When I got back to New Orleans, I headed to a club called Vaso to check out the Young Fellaz Brass Band, one of a truly startling number of youthful inner city brass bands in New Orleans. Given the musical tradition of the city, it is perhaps not surprising that there are brass bands in New Orleans, but what is surprising is that so many of them are organized by young men from the inner city neighborhoods, men from the hip-hop generation that one would expect to be deeply into rap. As a matter of fact, many of New Orleans’ younger musicians are into rap, but the city’s brass band music and culture manages to maintain a considerable following with young people as well as tourists. For me, that is why this music is so important. Not only is a link to New Orleans’ storied musical past, but it is also a place of intersection where the street culture of young Black men is presented in a way that people of other backgrounds can appreciate and enjoy. Unfortunately, the city seems to be cracking down on brass band performance, increasingly relegating the music to clubs only. This is very unfortunate, in that there are more brass bands than there are clubs willing to book them, and young musicians have traditionally “cut their teeth” by performing on the streets. Besides that, brass band music is a street music, meant to be played outdoors. Something is of necessity lost when the music is moved indoors. As for the Young Fellaz, they are impressive to be as young as they are. With the exception of a conga player, they use their outdoor formula in the club, and get a good, full sound. They seem to have become the resident band for Vaso, so I’ll probably visit that club more frequently when I’m in the Crescent City.