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The Brass Tacks Of New Orleans Bands

Mark Gstohl
Flickr - Creative Commons

There was a time in the city known for being without rules, New Orleans, that there were some rules for brass bands. Those days are gone.

New Orleans brass bands can trace their roots to the late 19th century when groups that contained mostly brass instruments -- but would also often have clarinets, saxophones and percussion -- played a mixture of European type military band music and African Folk music. In the early 20th century it was those bands that contributed greatly to the development of traditional Jazz.

The best known of the early brass bands included the Olympia Brass Band, the Eureka Brass Band, the Tuxedo Brass Band, the Onward Brass Band, the Excelsior Brass Band, the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, and the Camelia Brass Band. Many of the early bands exist today, though obviously without their original personnel.


In the late 1970s and into the 1980s the Treme Brass Band spearheaded a revival of the traditional brass bands. The best known members of the band were Kermit Ruffins and Lionel Baptiste. Very soon younger bands started to mix elements of Bebop, Funk, and hip-hop to the traditional style. Among the most influential of those bands have been the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Rebirth Brass Band.


We are now experiencing a second or maybe even third wave of what I'll call "progressive" brass bands. Among the best of those are Bonerama, The Stooges Brass Band and Soul Rebels Brass Band.

Bonerama is an outgrowth of Harry Connick Jr.'s big band, having been created in 1999 by two trombone playing veterans of Connick's band, Mark Mullins and Craig Klein. The name of the band stems from their use of four and sometimes even five trombones at once. The rest of the band usually consists of sousaphone, guitar and drums.

The sound of Bonerama is characterized by powerful Funk-Rock and they are well-known for their show stopping rendition of the Allman Brothers' piece "Whipping Post."

One great way to hear some of the new generation of brass bands is to attend the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Beyond that, there's never a shortage of recordings from great New Orleans' artists you can spend some time with.

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