The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation is raising the stakes this year in its second-annual Class Got Brass competition, offering$30,000 in instruments to the marching band programs of winning middle and high school brass bands. The contest, which began in 2012, was organized to address a well-known dilemma: While many New Orleans and Louisiana schools have incredibly popular marching band programs, most of these same schools lack the funds necessary to properly support and sustain the curricula.
“We all know that brass bands are symbolic for the city all over the world,” Jazz and Heritage Foundation Director of Programs (and OffBeat 2012 Best of the Beat award winner) Scott Aiges explained of the program’s origins during the inaugural contest last year. “And the kids of New Orleans love brass bands. But if you look at the schools, the middle schools and the high schools, nearly all of them have a marching band but very few actually have a traditional New Orleans-style brass band.”
Class Got Brass offers participating schools the chance to organize 12-person bands to compete against one another in an annual second line parade—held this year on Sunday, March 24 in association with the Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival in Louis Armstrong Park. The prizes include $10,000 for first place, $6,000 for second and $4,000 for third to benefit the winning schools’ marching band programs. As Aiges describes, “We thought, how could we create an incentive for the schools to support their kids wanting to carry on this [brass band] culture?”Bands are encouraged to incorporate both traditional as well as contemporary brass band songs into their repertoires. In fact, participants are required to play a minimum of three songs from a master list that includes classics such as “I’ll Fly Away,” “Li’l Liza Jane” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” as well as modern staples like “Do Whatcha Wanna,” “Mr. Big Stuff” and “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up.”
The deadline for Class Got Brass has been extended until March 1, and the contest welcomes applicants from both public and private middle and high schools throughout Louisiana. After the overwhelming response in the competition’s first year, Class Got Brass has added an elimination round for 2013 and will require bands that make the cut to play a dirge during the second line. The March 24 parade performances will be judged by some of New Orleans’ most revered brass musicians—last year’s panel included Dr. Michael White, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Gregg Stafford.