Rebirth Brass Band: The Main Event: Tornado Special/Waterfalls/Ooh Nah Nay/Rebirth on Fire
I’ve often, and probably annoyingly, stated that, in music, everything is better with a horn section. That may well be true in life, too, I mean wouldn’t it be great to go to work, but always have a horn section around?
Starting probably with watching the great HBO series Tremé, I began to learn about New Orleans brass band music, and realized that it was, pretty much, all horn section (and drums, which are also great). What is incredible about this music is that it starts with a base of traditional marching band songs and layers on funk, soul, rock, R&B and rap into an incredible, infectious mix. So, when I went to New Orleans in June, one of my goals was to hear some brass band music in its native environment.
This plan paid off almost immediately, because our first day in the Crescent City included a walking tour of the French Quarter, and while we waited for the guide in Jackson Square, we got to hear a great band playing for tips outside the park. I linked to a video of them in my last New Orleans piece, but here’s a different one. And, as I also previously wrote, as part of the wedding that was the excuse for the trip, we second lined behind the Kinfolk Brass Band, who then played during the cocktail hour at the reception. Then, we went to hear Musical Expression, a group of seven college-age musicians featuring mostly horns, at the Maison on Frenchmen Street, and on the way back to the hotel after their show, in a cab, we passed a large band of young kids, maybe high schoolers or even younger, playing brass band music on the street.
Which brings me to the featured song, or songs, from a live album released in 1999 by the Rebirth Brass Band. Formed in 1983 by brothers Philip (tuba/sousaphone) and Keith Frazier (bass drum), along with trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and other members of the marching band from the Joseph S. Clark Senior High School in the Tremé neighborhood, I’m willing to bet that they started playing on the streets, too. Along with their predecessors, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and other like-minded musicians, Rebirth helped to revitalize the brass band genre by updating the sound, and by putting on intense, powerful live performances.
This live album was recorded in 1999 at the Maple Leaf Bar, a venerable New Orleans institution (where Rebirth currently appears to play regularly on Tuesdays), and you can almost feel the heat in the room. Settle in for almost a half hour of continuous music, starting with an original piece, “Tornado Special,” (an Air reference) which then segues into a cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls” (Water), which turns into the Mardi Gras Indian chant “Ooh Nah Nay,” and ends with a revised version of the 1984 Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three song, “The Roof Is On Fire” (Fire) You pretty much have all of the “elements” of the style, all in one medley. Playing that night was a pretty big band-- Phil Frazier (sousaphone), Keith Frazier (bass drum), Derek Tabb (snare drum), Shamarr Allan (trumpet), Glen Andrews (trumpet), James Durant (saxophone), and Tyrus Chapman (trombone).
Rebirth’s music was featured in a number of Tremé episodes, including the season 2 finale, which was named after their song, “Do What You Wanna.” In fact, late in the episode, a band of high school students plays the song on Frenchmen Street, maybe right where my wife and I saw the kids playing that night, and a few scenes later in the episode, Rebirth is shown playing at the Maple Leaf. Unfortunately, HBO is very good at taking down illegal videos of the episode, so I can’t link to it, but if you haven’t watched Tremé, you should.