I doubt the Census Bureau can tell us where we might find the highest concentration of tuba players, but if it could, I’d guess that New Orleans would be near the top.
Just think of all those Second Lines with sousaphone players blasting the beat out over the heads of dancers.
A quick trivia detour: The sousaphone is the wrap around version of the tuba, making it easier to carry and project sound forward. From what I’ve read, the sousaphone, named after military-band extraordinaire John Philip Sousa was a modified version of a tuba-like instrument, called a helicon, designed to be played while riding a horse. Tally Ho!
The sousaphone/tuba is on my mind today because the next Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa will be guest hosted by David Moseley. In addition to being the host of KAOS’s world music show Xenophilia, David is the sousaphone player for Olympia’s own Artesian Rumble Arkestra.
In honor of David filling in for me while I screw off on the beach, here are five notable tuba/sousaphone players from New Orleans.
Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen – Mr. Lacen was part of Danny Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church band and became a bandleader and mentor to many. Famous for playing the streets, he also toured the world. Over a decade after his passing in 2004, Tuba Fats is still fondly remembered in New Orleans with a special day of recognition (Tuba Fats Tuesday after JazzFest) and a square named in his honor in the Treme.
Kirk Joseph – Another alumnus of Barker’s band of youthful brass players, Mr. Joseph was one of the founders of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band which reinvigorated the New Orleans brass band sound. He continues to play today mixing tradition with the contemporary and maintaining his credentials as the hip godfather of brass music.
Phil Frazier – Founding member of my favorite brass band, Mr. Frazier, along with his brother Keith, have been keeping the beat for Rebirth Brass Band since 1983. Influenced by the two previously mentioned tuba players, Phil has charted his own territory with Rebirth, laying down funky bass lines for the band that scored a grammy in 2012 with its album “Rebirth of New Orleans.”
Ben Jaffe – As the Creative Director of Preservation Hall, Mr. Jaffe perhaps isn’t always thought of as a tuba player. But that’s what he often plays for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. While his blood directly links him to the small French Quarter venue his parents started in the 1961, his talent has kept this venerable institution and its band from being a museum piece. Ben co-produced the 2013 album “That’s It!” which was the band’s first release to feature completely original music, including Jaffe’s tuba-booming title track.
Matt Perrine – It’s hard to avoid Mr. Perrine if you watch any number of New Orleans acts such as Bonerama and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. But to catch his latest work, check out “Linger Til Dawn” featuring awesome vocals by his wife Debbie Davis and some tasty interpretations of classics like “Sunny Afternoon” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”