If the line “There is a hatchet not so deep in my head” from Dr. John’s “Holdin’ Pattern” speaks to you, then this is your show. The persistence of COVID-19 feels like a holding pattern which is a problem for all those whose livelihoods depend on our ability to gather –such as brass band musicians. I’ll tell you about the show and more once you get it started. (click sideways arrow in box below and it will play while you continue to read.)
The uptick in COVID-19 infections and its impact on our health care system has slowed down the possibility of having live shows and congregating. I’m not an advocate of rushing this process but I do worry what impact it will have on our culture — particularly the unique New Orleans brass band culture.
The New Orleans Brass Band Musicians Relief Fund is currently crowdsourcing funding through GoFundMe and seeking larger donations to provide emergency cash grants to musicians. The relief fund was started by the Save Our Brass Culture Foundation, a nonprofit advocating for the city’s brass band musicians, with Seth Bailin, a saxophonist who plays with New Orleans brass bands, and Joanna Farley, who used to work in disaster response.
You’ll hear me make a plug for this foundation in the second hour as I play a long set of brass band music that includes the following: Lazy Boyz Brass Band with “Come and Dance,” The Hot 8 Brass Band with “War Time,” The To Be Continued Brass Band with “Numba2 (We Dem Folks)” edited for radio, The Original Pinettes Brass Band with “We Got Music,” The Soul Rebels with Trombone Shorty with “Sabor Latino,” Treme Brass Band with “Tuba Fats,” Rebirth Brass Band with “Dilemma,” and the Forgotten Souls Brass Band with “The Second Half.” It’s about 45 minutes of brass music.
We are on fire and not in a good way. From the fever of COVID-19 which has infected 2 million U.S. residents to the violent actions that lead to unnecessary death and hurt on our streets, we have “. . .trouble in mind.” To get the sun to shine in your backdoor again, start my show – we’ll make the journey to and from the dark place together.
You can’t do a show of New Orleans music and NOT play blues. And the song “Trouble in Mind” is classic New Orleans blues– written by Richard M. Jones, who grew up in New Orleans and played jazz in the city’s red light district, Storyville until he followed the African American diaspora north. He settled in Chicago where he worked with the gang of New Orleans musicians who made jazz an American tradition, including Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams.
He first recorded “Trouble” in 1924 but it was his recording in 1926 with the voice of Bertha “Chippie” Hill and the trumpet of Louis Armstrong that made the song a hit. You’ll hear that version (recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame) on this show. The lyrics have a dark edge.
Trouble in mind, that’s true I have almost lost my mind Life ain’t worthwhile livin’; feel like I could die I’m gonna lay my head On some lonesome rail road iron Let the 2:19 train ease my trouble of mine
Trouble In Mind – by Richard M. Jones
Like most blues, the song is as much about hope as it is about despair. When I was listening to this song in preparation for this show, I learned about how Jones cobbled this song from earlier spirituals that date back to slavery — how blues expresses suffering, yet by vocalizing our pain we can find ways to cope. In this show I express the view that we all have our burdens to carry but the most significant one is the imperative to ensure that no person or people have to carry more than their share. It seems to be a simple philosophy to say but difficult to follow.
Trouble in mind, oh, yes, I am blue But I won’t be blue always Yes, the sun will shine in my back door someday
the last stanza of Trouble in Mind by Richard M. Jones
If you listen to the whole show, you’ll hear a few renditions some with different lyrics and different styles (Zydeco and Caribbean for instance).
But there is a lot more to the show. You’ll hear the voice of listener “Ron” who introduces a set of music by female musicians and talks briefly about how New Orleans shares its good and bad, making it a real experience. You’ll also hear (and I hope dance to) a 25-minute brass band set. I play a new release by Taylor Smith who still has roots in New Orleans but recorded “Amnesia” in Memphis. Tuts Washington will bring “Georgia on My Mind.” Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band does “Eh la Bas”
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Sorry if you missed my interview of Rebirth Brass Band founder and sousaphone player Phil Frazier on the November 3 Gumbo YaYa show. Rebirth comes out to the Northwest next week, playing in Seattle on November 13 and Portland on November 14. Also, WWOZ is doing its pledge drive this week. Here’s why its important to support community radio.
Live music has the potential to freeze time for me–particularly cool new music. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be unique to anyone else. Just to me.
So when I stumbled into the Jazz Tent at my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 2006, I was oblivious that brass bands had undergone a major makeover. I was a couple decades behind the times. Having grown up around Dixieland jazz and watching brass bands at Mardis Gras in the 60’s, I wasn’t expecting the addition of funk, rock and R&B that the New Orleans Nightcrawlers were throwing at me from the stage. The music was unexpected, danceable and down right entertaining. I can pretty much trace my radio show and this blog to that moment in the jazz tent.
Returning home with their live album hot in my hand, I started learning more about this music which seems to have one toe in tradition and the rest of its toes in hip hop, bepop, funk, and rock.
When I got back to New Orleans later in the year, I made a point to catch Rebirth Brass Band at their home base, the Maple Leaf — which for this brass band band fan is the equivalent of a devout Catholic getting to meet the Pope in the Vatican.
I wish I could tell you first hand how this music has transformed over the years. But I wasn’t there. I can tell you that an important part of it was keeping the brass band tradition alive. Mentors like Danny Barker who formed the Fairview Baptist Marching Band were key. From that youth band, a new generation of musicians, schooled in the tradition, but open to other styles, rose up the ranks.
What do I like about this music? Just about everything.
But I’ll use Rebirth’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” from their grammy-winning CD as an example. Vincent Broussard on tenor sax applies a simple but catchy melody. Then the drummers kick in, keeping a beat but also playing around the beat in a totally engaging way. Founding band member Phil Frazier enters with the bass line on sousaphone while the other horns add depth. Broussard then takes the melody to new territory on another solo before the harmonizing horns kick in with a full breath rendition of the original melody, and I feel it right in my chest, a total uplift. There’s a give and take between the sax and the horns with the trumpet and trombone doing their own solo turns before a sort of controlled chaos breaks loose. At around the 4:20 mark, with about minute left, the band members begin to sing or sort of chant: “What goes around comes around in its time. We’re going to dance around, smoke a bong and get on down.”
Okay, so its party music. Music that definitely works best performed live, with a favorite libation nearby and some room to boogie. In fact, brass bands are designed to move, to march in parades, lead second lines and get people dancing wherever they are.
A couple of years ago, while waiting in line to eat lunch at Casamento’s, I got into a discussion with the guy ahead of me about The Soul Rebels who had just put out “Unlock Your Mind” that year. He was quite insistent that the only way to hear a New Orleans brass band is at their home base, which for the Rebels is Les Bon Temps Roule‘on Thursday nights. Given that the guy talking was David Simon, creator of Treme who has filmed a number of brass bands including the Rebels in action, I took it as sound advice. And its true. While I’ve always enjoyed catching Rebirth wherever I can (the band plays the Tractor in Ballard on November 13), I’ve had the best times with them at the Maple Leaf.
Here’s some simple tips for catching a brass band in New Orleans. Do what Simon says, catch them on their home turf if possible. Or catch them leading a second line parade (schedule). If you catch them at a club, be ready to stay up late cause if you’re lucky, the show will start by 11 p.m. Be prepared for a crowd and know that many bars still allow indoor smoking. Finally, if you’re worried about your ears, bring some ear plugs. You’ll still be able to hear them well.
You can also hear them well on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon on KAOS, 89.3 FM Olympia