By the late 80s three distinct schools of modem brass band music had developed among the young musicians. Each of the three schools has its own flag bearer.
DIRTY DOZEN—BEBOP BASED. In previous articles, we discussed the development of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and their incorporation of bebop into their musical style. Gregory Davis comments that “when we first started doing different styles and different compositions some of the older musicians said ‘That’s not right. Y’all shouldn’t do that.’ But the second liners loved it and they would keep asking us to do our special numbers.” So then not only did the Dirty Dozen make a stylistic break, they also began to attract a younger audience to the music, as well as influence technical developments among younger musicians who wanted to learn how to play like the Dirty Dozen. The best recorded representation of the Dirty Dozen is Live at Montreux (Rounder Records).
YOUNG TUXEDO—TRAD BASED. Gregg Stafford and Dr. Michael White, along with drummer Stanley Stephens, trombonist/tubaist Lucien Barbarian, and bass drummer Charles Barbarian represent leading elements among those whom I consider the “young traditionalists.” These are young musicians who are emotionally and intellectually committed to traditional New Orleans jazz. Although there are numerous recordings in the traditional context, there are no recent recordings that truly represent the Young Tuxedo Brass Band. Over on the west bank in Algiers, the Algiers Brass Band also plays in the traditional style. The Algiers Brass Band is particularly adept at capturing the emotional authenticity of the traditional style even though they are not quite as technically accomplished.
REBIRTH BRASS BAND—FUNK BASED. The Rebirth Brass Band, although a relatively young band, is already in its second major phase and is firmly committed to mating the traditional brass band repertoire with popular Black dance music (i.e. funk), thus one song will be the traditional “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You” and the very next song will be Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.” They approach their music with a youthful vigor that is infectious, and the blend is not as odd as it may sound on paper, particularly as Rebirth develops a distinctive use of riffs and ensemble (both instrumental and vocal) parts as the major elements, rather than bop-influenced individual solos like the Dirty Dozen. Feel Like Funkin’ It Up (Rounder Records) is an outstanding example of this approach.
The above differentiations refer in the main to the younger brass bands active on the streets of New Orleans today. Of course, bands such as the Olympia Brass Band under the capable leadership of Harold “Duke” Dejan continue to carry on the tradition using older musicians for the most part.
The Olympia has its own style, which in many ways resembles the music of Louis Armstrong’s Allstars. In much the same way that Louis Armstrong did, The Olympia includes pop show tunes in their repertoire.
Also noteworthy is Olympia lead trumpeter Milton Batiste’s major influence on younger musicians. As a music producer and mentor, Milton Batiste exerts significant impact in trying to keep upcoming musicians respectful of the traditions as upheld by The Olympia and at the same time encouraging them to incorporate modem elements into the music.
Milton Batiste has produced an anthology release, which accurately represents not only The Olympia Brass Band but also offers cuts from The Chosen Few Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The anthology is called New Orleans Brass Bands Down Yonder (Rounder Records) and is an excellent starting point in understanding modern brass band music.
Dr. Michael White identifies a fifth critical front in the development of modern brass band music, and that is bands that play away from New Orleans or only for special occasions. Bands such as the Excelsior Brass Band and the Liberty Brass Band do not function on a day-to-day basis in New Orleans but are significant in representing the music outside of New Orleans. These bands all concentrate on the deep traditions of brass band music and have an influence that transcends the contemporary New Orleans street scene.
The best example of this often “overlooked” influence is that one of the major considerations in Wynton Marsalis’ decision to record “The New Orleans Function” on his Majesty of the Blues release was an Excelsior Brass Band album called Jolly Reeds & Steamin’ Horns. The front line of Teddy Riley, Michael White and trombonist Freddie Lonzo heard on this 1983 recording is the same front line that Wynton Marsalis decided to use on his recording. They are also the same front line used for a Lincoln Center feature concert on the music of Jelly Roll Morton which was held in August 1989. The concert was under the direction of Dr. Michael White and the series of which the concert was one part was under the artistic direction of Wynton Marsalis.
This is the rich tradition and blossoming contemporary scene that comprises brass band music in New Orleans as we close out the 20th Century, a century that musically has been dominated by jazz and its influences on world musical culture.