Trombonist Corey Henry hails from a family full of noted drummers including his grandfather, Chester Jones; his uncle, Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones; and an uncle who played with Tuba Fats & the Chosen Few Brass Band. Even Corey played drums when he was first coming up and when, in the late 1980s, he formed the Li’l Rascals Brass Band. So why didn’t Henry follow the drumbeat? His father, Oswald “Bo Monkey” Jones, is a grand marshal so there’s no trombone DNA there.
“First I was inspired by the trombone by being from New Orleans, a great city for trombone players,” says Henry, a wicked ’bone player whether he’s leading his Treme Funktet, blowin’ with the Treme Brass Band or digging in with Galactic. “Back when I was coming up, there were so many young cats that were real hot trombone players, like Keith ‘Wolf’ Anderson, he played with the Rebirth and a couple of other brass bands during that period. He was one of the guys who really stuck out. I just loved the way he voiced the trombone and posed. His whole style was real attractive to a young musician.”
Those fans and friends who know Henry are well aware of his deep respect for Fred Wesley, the trombonist best known for his work with James Brown and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. It might come as a surprise, however, that Henry was first introduced to Wesley’s sound not via these funk masters but on the trombonist’s fine 1988 jazz album, To Someone, on which he leads a quartet. “It touched me in a way that nothing had ever touched me,” Henry declares. “He’s probably my greatest influence on trombone.”
Several years after founding the Li’l Rascal, Henry finally made the switch to trombone, an instrument that he’s dedicated himself to ever since. It suits him especially well as it marries his two primary musical specialties, brass band music and funk, which is reflected in the Funktet.
“It speaks a ton of funk,” Henry declares. “It has its own effect on the music and it definitely has a heavy sound. You can do great things in funk music on the trombone and do things that other instruments can’t do. With the slide we create different sounds.”
“It’s one of the most popular instruments to play right now especially in New Orleans,” says Henry, who, like many others who follow the social aid and pleasure clubs’ anniversary parades, has noticed the increased use of the instrument in the young brass bands. He points out, too, that the huge success of Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, whom he calls “a talented young genius,” has probably spurred its prevalence among up-coming musicians. Henry naturally credits the wealth of trombonists—“the ones that came before us”—like Waldren “Frog” Joseph, Freddie Lonzo, Charles Joseph, Revert Andrews and others for the instrument’s traditional importance in the music. “We’re just happy to be connected to it,” Henry sincerely offers. “We walk with the torch a little bit and offer what we can to the music.”
In 2012, after an extended stint playing with Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, a gig Henry thoroughly relished, the trombonist put together his own Treme Funktet in order to perform at the Candlelight Lounge, which is owned by his cousin, Leona “Chine” Grandison. (The band recently returned to liven up the Treme landmark on Sunday nights.) The following year, the Funktet took over Ruffins’ popular Thursday night gig at Vaughan’s in the Bywater.
The Treme Funktet is just a gas in the way it brings together the power of the street sounds and New Orleans’ version of funk that incorporates the freedom of jazz music. “Brass band music is a kind of funk music as well,” says Henry, whose playing verifies the truth of the statement. Schooled by his elders and intense personal study, the trombonist commands a certain brilliant sophistication in his approach to his horn.
Henry modeled aspects of his band’s sound, he says, to be reminiscent of the JB’s, the horn section that backed James Brown, with legendary artists Wesley and saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker. “It comes out more like we’re living in New Orleans,” Henry explains. “That’s what you’ve got to stick to.”
Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet, which is well-named in celebrating its musical roots, includes the amazing guitarist June Yamagishi, who tears it up every outing; bassist Manus Tilton, the nephew of the late great bassist Richard Payne with whom Henry performed many times during his days with Ruffins at Vaughan’s; drummer Walter Lundy, known for his work with Bonerama; trumpeter Antonio Gambrell; keyboardist Beck Burger; and violinist Donald Surtain, who, in this setting, becomes one with the horn section.
As Henry’s elders like Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen paid it forward by teaching him the music and its traditions, he is doing the same. He works closely with his daughter, Jazz Henry, who plays trumpet with the Original Pinettes Brass Band, and has mentored trombonist Revon Andrews, now the leader of his own group, the Funk Griots.
“I’m always open to helping out younger cats like that. That’s our job—to make sure the next generation is equipped. They’ve got to be prepared and take that shit and run with it.”
Saturday, April 13, 7:15p
GE Digital Big River Stage