“It’s all New Orleans and it is all a part of me,” says Mark Braud of the music heard on his latest release, Living the Tradition. The trumpeter, vocalist and composer honed his chops as a fourth-generation member of the noted Brunious musical family that dates back to guitarist Willie Santiago, who played with the legendary Buddy Bolden. Teamed primarily with the artists on the disc—clarinetist Tim Laughlin, trombonist Lucien Barbarin, bassist Mark Brooks and pianist Meghan Swartz, with either Herlin Riley or Gerald French at the drums—Braud will offer selections from the album at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday, August 5 at the Satchmo SummerFest. The evening prior to this performance, Braud will join his influential uncle, trumpeter/vocalist Wendell Brunious, at Preservation Hall to pay tribute to Braud’s grandfather and Wendell’s father, trumpeter John “Picket” Brunious, Sr.
Braud has spent much of the last two years in New York performing on pianist Harry Connick Jr.’s television show, Harry, which wraps up in the fall. Braud continues to play with Connick’s band—as he has for about 17 years now—though the trumpeter is back in New Orleans gigging at some favorite haunts. On Sundays he leads the band at the Palm Court and he can be heard weekly at Preservation Hall.
When were you first aware of music?
My first recollection of hearing music was hearing my grandfather [John Brunious, Sr.] play piano around the house. He was best known for trumpet but he was a great piano player and arranger. I only have one recording of him playing piano. It’s a Dave Bartholomew record called New Orleans House Party and he wrote some of the songs and did some of the arrangements.
What drew you to trumpet?
Everybody in my family played trumpet at some point. My grandparents had eight kids, my mom being one of them, and all eight kids played the trumpet. When I was 11 or 12 and I wanted to join the band at school I had been hanging out at a friend’s house and he had a saxophone, so I wanted to play saxophone. My mom told Wendell and he was like, ‘Oh, I have a cornet for him.’ It was kind of chosen for me at first but then I realized I came from a trumpet-playing family and that’s the sound that I heard all the time. Maybe if I played saxophone I would have approached the music from a trumpet player’s standpoint.
It can be assumed that Wendell was your biggest influence?
Yes, definitely. There was always music around—we had a large family—and at every family function there was always some kind of live music. People would bring their instruments. People would join in and we’d have a second line in the house.
When I was a kid, I met a lot of musicians through Wendell. He would take me around to different places to meet people, to meet my elders.
You wrote and dedicated one tune to Wellman Braud, a renowned bassist who is also a distant cousin of yours and is related to the Marsalis family on Dolores Ferdinand Marsalis’ side. When did you find out you were related to him, and thus the Marsalis family, and when did you discover his music?
I didn’t know about him until I was older—maybe like in my twenties. I don’t even know if I knew who he was before then. I remember talking to my grandfather, Bernard Braud, on my dad’s side, about him and he was like, ‘Yeah, Wellman Braud was your cousin.’ I was surprised at all of the recordings he was on. He was a great bass player.
I’ve been listening to a lot of recordings he did with Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington and I got inspired to write this song. It’s not based on any other song, just a feeling that I had after listening to him so much including Ellington’s tune, ‘Portrait of Wellman Braud.’
Many New Orleans musicians have also been involved in music education. Have you? Why does teaching seem to remain such a strong element in the music community?
Before I left to do the TV show, Harry, I did some teaching at NOCCA and through the Preservation Hall Foundation mostly at McDonogh 35.
When I was growing my elders were so generous to me. They would let me play before I became a professional musician and then on break if I had questions—it could be about music, it could be about life, about business, anything—they were always so generous with information. I guess my motto is to pay it forward. I just try to pass on as much knowledge as I can.
Are there any lessons that you learned from Wendell that have particularly stuck with you and that you’ve passed on?
I was at his house probably as much as I was at my own house or he was over at our house when I was a kid. He had a saying, ‘The melody is your best friend.’ And another thing was, ‘If you can’t play it slowly, you can’t play it fast.’
Are the musicians on the Satchmo set going to be the same as those heard on Living the Tradition? Would you consider this your regular band?
Yes, except I haven’t nailed down a drummer yet but it will probably be Herlin [Riley] or Gerald [French]. I play with everybody pretty regularly but as a group this was mainly for a studio session.
It seems that you’re really not associated with sharing the front line with clarinetist Tim Laughlin. Have you performed with him much?
Years ago we used to play together pretty often. When I was writing all of this music I was on a gig with him, I think it was at the Palm Court. I was really just loving his sound. You know, sometimes when you haven’t played with somebody for a long time, you kind of forget what you like about them. And the things that I was writing, I thought he would be a great fit. So I said, ‘Hey man, do you still have the same phone number?’ I didn’t tell him what it was about or anything. About a year later I asked him if he wanted to be part of the project.
Many of the musicians on the album, perhaps particularly Herlin Riley, Mark Brooks and Meghan Swartz, play music from many genres, as do you.
That’s one thing I pride myself in. The guys who influenced me weren’t stuck in one particular style or genre of music. It’s all music. What we produce as New Orleans musicians is New Orleans music.
That’s why I named my record Living the Tradition because these are all original compositions that I am contributing to the tradition. I think everybody hopes that maybe one day one of their songs will be a classic just like we still play ‘Bourbon Street Parade.’ When you listen to my record, I think you can hear all of the different genres of music that influenced me. With a lot of the New Orleans musicians that I’ve played with, you could get on a gig and you might be playing anything—New Orleans R&B, some funk, some gospel, some traditional jazz, zydeco, anything. The people who I grew up idolizing in New Orleans, they could go in any direction any time.
Many of the tunes on the album have what Jelly Roll Morton called a Latin tinge—Meghan’s “La Tomate” and several of your compositions including the up-tempo “At the Carnival” and the lovely “The Last Lullaby.”
I made a trip to Cuba in 2015 and we got to collaborate with a lot of musicians and I think that trip had a serious impact on what I did for the next few years. So yes, it definitely is a part of the influence on this record.
There’s a lot of New Orleans music that has what Jelly Roll coined as the Latin tinge or the Spanish tinge. Even Creole songs like ‘Eh La Bas’ and another song in the New Orleans repertoire is ‘Mama Inez.’
There are also a couple of New Orleans R&B tunes, including “Trouble”(which is a lot of fun) with Gerald French on vocals, and “Mary Jane,” that rhythmically is totally of the heydays era. You played with the great pianist/vocalist Eddie Bo. Was he an influence on those?
I was in Eddie Bo’s band for a while and I did some touring with him. My first professional recording session was with Eddie Bo. It was called ‘Back Up This Train.’ I had been doing mostly brass band stuff—I think I was playing with the Treme [Brass Band] at the time. That’s when I met [saxophonist] Fred Kemp. He was a real mentor to me. He had this recording session coming up with Eddie Bo and he was like, ‘Hey man, you want to make this recording session?’ I was like, of course. It was a cool experience.
I think ‘Trouble’ and ‘Mary Jane’ were influenced by that and all of the guys that I love who played R&B like Eddie, Allen Toussaint and Fats Domino.
You wrote nine of the 11 songs on the album and co-wrote another with Meghan Swartz.
This is the first time doing an album of all original songs. I’ve never, that I can think of, recorded any originals.
On my last album, Hot Sausage Rag, I recorded three of my grandfather’s compositions that I don’t think had been played since he recorded them. I recently found out that after I recorded that album that a lot of different bands started playing that song, ‘Hot Sausage Rag.’ I was like wow because it had been in obscurity for many decades. New Birth recorded it and there’s a band in Australia that recorded it and there’s another band [St. Roch Syncopators] who has Wendell’s son, Brandon, in it who recorded it.
My grandfather was a great composer. He died when I was almost three but he continued to have an influence on me through his recordings.
I remember when I was going to NOCCA and Clyde Kerr Jr. was my teacher and he told me, ‘Man, you have that Brunious sound.’ And it is a sound. I think it all comes from my grandfather. John [Brunious, Jr.], Wendell and myself; we have a similar approach melodically. That’s the sound I heard all my life.
It almost seems like a prerequisite that, especially in classic jazz, trumpeters who lead their own bands have to sing. Have you always sung?
Before I played trumpet, I was singing. When I was a little kid I knew ‘Bill Bailey (Won’t You Please Come Home)’ and ‘Sheik of Araby.’ My parents would always take us on the weekends out to hear music especially if Wendell was playing. We used to go down to Traditional Hall—that was Papa French’s club. There was Papa French, Wendell, Freddie Lonzo, Jeanette Kimball, Frank Fields, Bob French and all those people.
There was a soda machine in there and I used go up to the stage and ask Wendell for a quarter for a soda. And Bob French would start yelling at me: ‘Get off of my stage! Go play in traffic!’ It kind of became part of the act. I used to actually like it.
My singing was never a standalone. I’m a trumpet player and I sing. Singers are a big influence. I like George French, Topsy Chapman, John Boutté, Phillip Manuel. It does seem that every trumpet player in New Orleans sings. I think it all stems from Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong set that precedent.
When were you first aware of Louis Armstrong and how have you tried to emulate him?
For as long as I could retain a thought—as long as I can remember. There are so many things about Louis Armstrong that are fascinating to me. First of all his sound. I can’t imagine hearing that sound live. Just on records it’s just so huge. He was a larger-than-life figure but at the same time he was so humble. Not only is his music an influence but just the person that he was.