Even if you aren’t familiar with the name To Be Continued Brass Band, chances are you’ve heard this young, hotshot group blowing at their regular spot on the corner of Canal and Bourbon streets. Or, maybe you caught a little of one of their impromptu sessions in front of One Shell Square, where the band was a welcoming committee of sorts for those heading to the Wednesday afternoon concerts at Lafayette Square. The band tends to pop up at places, sometimes along a second line parade route just for kicks, and for several years, outside the Jazz Fest gates.
To Be Continued (TBC) has been together since 2001, when the members were students at George Washington Carver and John F. Kennedy high schools. It hit the streets professionally for the first time in 2002 with the Nine Times Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
“We practiced a whole year before we started playing,” explains founder, leader and tuba man Jason Slack, who boasts that the members were all section leaders in their high school bands. Slack comes from a musical family and began playing keyboards and then drums at St. Paul Church of God in Christ where he was eventually named music minister.
He organized the group to raise money in order to go on a school trip, but TBC has gained increasing recognition since its first official gig at Carver’s homecoming parade. Its big sound and spirit caught the attention of hip-hop artists The Roots, who asked TBC to join them at their 2005 Essence Festival performance after hearing them on the streets. That led to the band playing a concert with them in Philadelphia. TBA also performed at a record release party for Babyface and locally, it has been getting more calls from second line clubs like the celebrated Young Men Olympian, Big Seven and Devastation.
Based in Dallas since Hurricane Katrina and looking to return, TBC plays in New Orleans when it can. This month, it plays Donna’s on Saturday, Feb. 4 and joins 15 other bands at the Krewe du Vieux’s brass-heavy parade that winds through the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter on Saturday, Feb. 11. (The parade starts at 7 p.m. and climaxes at the State Palace Theater with headliner Ivan Neville’s Dumpsta Phunk.)
So what is the deal with the band’s unusual name? I thought “To Be Continued” was in reference to carrying on or expanding the brass band tradition like the ReBirth and New Birth brass bands’ monikers. However, Slack explains that the name has several meanings.
“We’re trying to wake people up,” Slack declares. Utilizing his gospel background, Slack says he arranges the horns in such a way to sound like a choir. “It’s a luring sound — you have to come and see what’s going on,” he says. “We don’t believe in calming down. It’s to be continued.”
Slack also explains that one day, as the group was walking down Bourbon Street, vocalist Big Al Carson gave them a shout out on the microphone and asked them to come in the club and play, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After they finished, he asked the band’s name but since it didn’t have one yet, he just thanked them and said, “Alright folks it’s to be continued,” meaning they’d be back another day. The crowd picked up on this and started yelling, “To Be Continued Brass Band.”
The bandleader explains that there’s yet another twist. “It all came together because all these guys were heading for the worst — even myself. We were headed for the streets, drugs, crime. I said we all hang with each other, we sleep by each other’s houses. Why can’t we make money together? I always recognized these guys as bad dudes so I said you know what? We’re the TBC Brass Band. Ten Bad Children. That’s what they call us when we play in the Seventh Ward.”
Three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, saxophone, snare, bass drum and on club jobs a guitar give TBC its hefty, hip-hop-infused sound on street anthems as well as original material from the pens of Slack and trombonists Joseph Maiz and Edward Jackson. Slack expects 10 members, most of whom were onboard at the start, to be jumping at the Krewe du Vieux parade. It’s a feat not easily accomplished in these post-Katrina days. Determined to hold the group together, Slack headed to Atlanta, Houston and California to gather his scattered troop and bring them to Dallas where they presently reside. Canadian filmmakers have been documenting the band’s adventures following Hurricane Katrina.
Now more than ever, it’s worrisome that To Be Continued represents the youngest brass band on the streets. We could really use someone like Danny Barker who saw interest in the tradition waning and took it upon himself to instruct another generation of musicians.
“We don’t see any bands coming up,” says Slack, who hopes to create a little children’s brass band, probably filled with some of his nephews and cousins. “It’s up to us, the bands that are out now.” In the meantime, Slack is intent on keeping To Be Continued viable and working with an ear to spreading the brassy sound.
“People still don’t know about the music,” laments Slack. “My plan is to expand this music all over the world.”