The following is some of many well–known brass bands of New Orleans from the old days.
In the pre-jazz period the Pickwick Brass Band (led by Norman Manetta) from St. John Parish, was one of the the leading brass bands in New Orleans. the Excelsior Brass Band first led by Theogene Baquet, was renamed the Bell – Decker Brass Band (Louisianian, 1874) (led by Sylvester Decker during the 1880s) and the Onward Brass Band (formed by Prof. J.O. Lainez) were the city’s finest brass bands through the 1890s. These were good reading brass bands and in the first years of these two bands the members were Creoles. Kelly’s Band and St. Bernard Brass Band (conducted by E. Lambert) were listed by James M. Trotter (Music and Some Highly Musical People, 1878).
In 1882 the Louisianian wrote about the Champion Brass Band. The Reliance Brass Band of Jack Laine was formed in 1888. This was also the time that the Crescent City Brass Band (organised by Prof. Jim Humphrey) played. Humphrey also organized the Deer Range Brass Band, based in a small town near the Magnolia Plantation. In 1888 Clairborne Williams led the St. Joseph Brass Band down in Donaldsonville that regular visited New Orleans.
In these early (pre-jazz) years, the brass band music in New Orleans was like the brass bands playing in any other part of the United States.
In the years before 1900 the Eureka Brass Band (first led by Willie Wilson) also became one of the leading bands. Other bands in these early years were Pelican Brass Band (led by J. Dresch and later by James Humphrey), the Alliance Brass Band (of Victor Lacorbiere), the Columbia Brass Band and the Tulane Brass Band (by Amos Riley). James Humphrey brought the Eclipse Brass Band formed on the Magnolia Plantation to New Orleans. In the same period Buddy Bolden had his own Bolden Brass Band. After 1906-1907 Frankie Dusen took over Bolden’s band and renamed it the Eagle Brass Band. In “Jazzmen” Bunk Johnson also named (pre-1900) brass bands as Charlie Dablayes Brass Band, Diamond Stone Brass Band, Old Columbia Brass Band and the Frank Welsh Brass Band. This period was dominated by the great Creole bands, with carefully arranged marches and dirges played as written. The first “ratty” or “barrel house” improvising brass bands appeared at this time also.
Some of the brass bands were based across the river at Algiers, the Pacific Brass Band (Manuel Manetta) and the Allen Brass Band of Henry Allen sr., for example. Other brass bands were based outside New Orleans but came to town, like Anthony Holmes’ Holmes Brass Band of Lutcher .
Of course there was Peter Davis who started the Waifs Home Brass Band in which Louis Armstrong and Kid Rena made their appearance. At the same time also the Bulls Club Brass Band of the popular Bulls Aid and Pleasure Club played regular, under the leadership of Manuel Callier.
Just before WW I Oscar “Papa” Celestin formed his Tuxedo Brass Band and from 1915 on John Fischer led his Fischer Brass Band.
In the pre-1920s. Edward Kid Ory’s Brass Band was on the streets, and the Indiana Brass Band probably the same as The Marching Band (as said by the leader George McCullum sr.). The first brass band led by Joe “King“ Oliver was the Melrose Brass Band. At that time Willie Parker organized his Terminal Brass Band and Joe Petit organized and managed the Security Brass Band . Wooden Joe Nicholas formed his Camelia Brass Band that was quickly renamed D’Jalma Garnier Brass Band after Garnier became the leader. Also, the new Holy Ghost Brass Band was the first brass band in which Harold “Duke” Dejan played. Later he switched to the Paul Chaligny Brass Band. One of the so–called non-reading brass bands was the Chris Kelly Brass Band. A non-reading brass band didn’t read the music when playing on the streets. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t read music, but they played by ear without music.
In the period of the 1920s and 1930s Henry “Kid” Rena had his own Kid Rena Brass Band, also a non–reading band. In the mid 1920s Manuel Perez changed the name of the Onward Brass Band into the Imperial Brass Band. Buddie Petit formed the Buddie Petit Brass Band and Punch Miller his Zulu Band. 1928 was the year that the Lyons brass band existed for a few months. In the late 1920s Abby Williams was leading his Square Deal Social Brass Band, in which band “Uncle Lionel Batiste” played his first parade around 1942.
Kid Howard had his own Kid Howard Brass Band in the early 1930s.
In the late 1940s the Silver Leaf Brass Band, led by Kid Howard, played in the streets of New Orleans. Abby Williams probably used the Silver Leaf musicians in his Abby Williams Happy Pals Brass Band around 1942
In May 1945 Bunk’s Brass Band, led by Bunk Johnson, was the first New Orleans street band on phonograph records. In 1946 Rudi Blesh made two record sessions of Kid Howard‘s pick-up band in the name of the Original Zenith Brass Band. Both of the brass bands weren’t regular bands, but put together only for the record session.
In the early 1950s the E. Gibson Brass Band (under the leadership of Alphonse Spears) a non-union band was evolved out of the Jimmy Jackson Brass Band who used several men who played in the St. John’s Brass Band. In these years the George Williams’ Brass Band were with the Eureka (at that time led by Percy Humphrey) and the Young Tuxedo brass band (led by John Casimir) the only three organized union brass bands in New Orleans.
In 1962 the new Olympia Brass Band of Harold Dejan, played his first job.
The Renaissance of the brass bands began when in 1971 Danny Barker formed the Young Fairview Christian Church Brass Band. The first “offshoot” of this band was Leroy Jones Hurricane Brass Band, formed in 1974.
“In the last decades of the 18th Century and the first of the 20th Century, every community throughout the United States, almost without exception, and every medicine show, circus or any other group of traveling entertainers had a brass band. What made New Orleans different was that the black community, particularly the baptists, adopted the custom of burying their dead with what amounted to pseudo full military honours.” …”For several decades after the turn of the century the custom was widely enough practised to keep most of the City’s brass bands occupied virtually every day of the week.”
From the introduction of Richard H. Knowles book, FALLEN HEROES.
A Brief History Of Brass Bands, by B. Singer (http://anhonesttune.com/exclusives/archive/profiles_ddbb.htm)
As the first strains of the early Turk military bands reached the Austrian Capital in 1529 what would later be called brass band music took its first step toward the New World. The fearsome Turk army attacked the walled city. An old depiction of the battle shows the Turks brandishing lances, guns and swords. IN one tent five Austrians cower to the stature of two Turk soldiers dress in Islamic Garb. Brought from southern Ottoman territories, camels bear the ammunitions and explosives for cannons. Men marched to the bass percussion, cymbal and the snap of ancient snare drums. Early bugles sound out battle orders.
Enemies or not, the sound of the Turk’s music became popular in Vienna. The marches and revelries of the military music were soon another feature in the increasing texture of classical music. Hayden would later write the Military Symphony, and Mozart, the Rondo Ala Turka, testaments to the incorporation of the military sound. While the Royalty sweated an invasion, living under fear of Ottoman arms, their musicians learned to play the oppressors music.
The Turk army had swelled to nearly 150,000 thousand men when Vienna made a deal of mutual assistance with Poland. Shortly after, on July 14 1683, the Turks again attacked the walled capital of Austria. By September, the symptoms of war plagued Vienna: hunger, sickness, and despair. The Turk Army days had broken through the walls and would soon gain the entrance to the city. At the last moment 30,000 Poles marched from the North. Led by the warrior-King Jan Sobieski, the Poles thrashed the Turks. German troops arrived on the scene to help, with the Vienna troops battled away the final Turk warrior. The Ottoman-Turk Empire was fine, but such a battle left the Turks without the power to regain strength. Within twenty years the power ceased and Islam halted at the Balkans.
Europe was in the mists of the Renaissance. The sound of the military band spread across the East. Once bearing just banners of war, the music could be heard at Royal processions, in inclusive symphonies and in celebrations. The harbinger of war became the music of the people, adding to its leer, the trappings of festivity.
Brass Bands Land in America.
At the same time the Ottoman-Turk Empire expired settlements had been fortified up and down the East coast of America. Although not as successful as colonies in the Caribbean, the New Englanders would soon bear arms and obtain right of sovereignty. Industry advances and life in the New World took off. America grows quickly, and with it Brass Band music.
The two hot spots for marching bands were Boston and New Orleans. Around 1830 “Over the shoulder horns were developed,” says Jerry Brock, local D.J and author of a book on the history of brass bands. Keyed bugles, imagine a trumpet with saxophone valves, was invented in 1815. Even though the valve bugle was quickly replaced by the coronet, the invention invited a move to an “all brass,” ensemble. By the late 1830’s, according to Brock, the term Brass Band was being used, and the music continued to grow.
In 1861, the Civil War begins. Brother against Brother, North versus South. Again, music came together in war. The bands, like military bands of the past, set the pace and signaled the soldiers movements. Although in the mix of a battle over slavery, African-Americans on both side of the Mason-Dixon line found themselves in the military band, a position where men were in demand. To the composed music they brought a greater inflection of religion, rejoicing, and lament. Just as classical music had taken in flavors of the Turkish military band sound, brass bands began to become infused with the tones of the African Diaspora- a move that added an unmistakable spirit of religious drumming and polyrhythms.
After the war brass bands experienced a hey-day. Every town had a band. Minstrel bands that had formed in the 1840’s grew in popularity, providing a entertainment for both working class and upper-class. America found itself in the throes of an economic revolution. Populations rose, city-life bloomed. People celebrated. Historian Harry Kmen notes, “Any occasion from the laying of a cornerstone, to the blessing of a flag was reason enough for a parade. Militia companies, fire companies, secret lodges other organizations abound, all with their marching bands.”
By the turn of the century the United States churned with mechanized activity. John Philip Sousa, whose father played in a Civil War Marine Band, became a influential brass band leader. Sousa invented the Sousa-phone, which often gets called a Tuba. He also remained adamant that this music should reach the masses. With this in mind he orchestrated pieces for seventy plus groups. Schools and military bands followed his models, pioneering the large marching band.
In New Orleans the brass bands flourished. One reason was the activity of Social Aide and Pleasure Clubs. Created to act as an informal insurance for minorities, members of each club paid dues and helped raise money. In turn assistance was given. Local entertainment, parties and dances, centered around the clubs. Through the constant New Orleans style parading Brass bands became inexorably linked to the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs.
In the latter half of last century minorities began to gain civil rights. Affordable health care squelched the main purpose of the Social Aid Societies. This limited the call for brass band.
In the 50 and sixties R+B bands, like the Funky Meters and Dr. John, along with the British invasion shortened the call for brass bands. Never a particularly recorded music, Brass Bands began to wane in popularity as parties called for electric bands to interpret the music of the day.
This is not to say brass band music was dying. Quite the contrary. Young players, born in the 40’s, were beginning to add the flavors of newer music to the traditional sounds. Like Be Bop the real work was being done after hours. Innovations in soloing and instrumentation kept the music fresh, popular taste kept it at bay.
Three hundred years after the Turks were defeated outside the walls of Vienna, brass band music takes second seat to popular music. A few years later in Louisiana, an unlikely Jazz character would help brass bands to regain the throne.
New Orleans 1922- The sounds of brass bands filled the streets for any occasion.
At age thirteen Danny Barker got an old banjo from an Aunt. After a few lessons Barker was able to play a few tunes and got the neighborhood kids together to start, “A little band one could hustle with.” The instruments were to be found: a kazoo, a washboard, or a can with rocks in its. “Anything to make noise with a smile,” Barker said. He called this type of group a “spasm band.”
The depression was nearing, and for the band, “The Boozan Kings,” it was a matter of getting paid. Enduring racist commentary, the band, dressed in black face, played for tips outside white clubs. “I wanted that almighty quarter, that almighty dime,” Barker said.
Jazz was being born. Players around the city were playing by ear. Louis Armstrong was expanding the concept of music. Music was changing in shape.
During the birth of Jazz Barker became popular in his own right as a dependable Jazz Guitarist. The Boozan Kings got hot and Danny got an offer to head to New York City. In 1930 Danny got married. Together with his wife, and stage companion “Blue Lu,” and Danny Barker moved to the greener [more money] pastures of NYC. Barker could never have known, but he was to witness the another birth, the birth of be-bop.
Barker recalled the scene backstage as the testing grounds for a new music. The music although nebulous in its definition, can be seen as a contrast to the popular swing music. From Thomas Owen’s book called Bebop, I quote, “The music, [bebop] was mostly played by small groups, was generally more complex. N particular, bebop rythmym sections, using varied on- and off-beat chordal punctuations (known as comping) supplied by the drummer on drums and cybals, were much more polyrythmic than were swing rhythm sections.”
Charlie Parker may have seen things m0ore clearly when he offered this response, “Let’s not call it bebop. Let’s call it music.
Be-Bop continued to grow in popularity. Players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz improvised, using the known world of music as their palette. However, the rise in be-bop incorporated aspects that signaled to Barker that it was time to head back down to New Orleans. From a 1995 article from Reckon Magazine Barker explains some of reasons. “Big band music was going out. Swing and traditional Jazz were in decline because be-bop was on the ascent. [Those] musicians weren’t dressed right. It was.. jackets and dungarees. I’m from New Orleans, I wanna wear a silk shirt, I wanna look prosperous. I don’t wanna wear no dungarees and sneakers. Them boys had a whole cult, forget about the clothes. And they into other things like narcotics, smoking the cigarettes, and they supposed to be hip- they don’t shave no more, they wearin’ what the hippies are wearin’, them bibs and lettin’ their hair grow down. And they’re into themselves, a whole lot of secret mystery about their behavior. And if you were neat, clean, and dressy, they look upon you as if something’s wrong with you.” Barker returned home in 1965
The music was not thriving as it had been thirty-five years earlier when Barker had left. The Social Aide and Pleasure clubs where hardly parading, and a whole generation of players were growing without being taught traditional music. Of course music was in the streets of the city, it always is, but R+B and the British bands had the attention of the public. The state of affairs was such that Barker took a job at a museum to help make ends meet.
A few years later Barker was asked by Reverend Andrew Darby to help organize a group of “young people,” into a brass band at the Fairview Baptist Church. Jazz historians site Barker’s involvement with this band as his most important contribution to Jazz. Barker proved to be as much a mentor as a music teacher, showing how to dress for a gig, as well as what to play. Greg Boyd wrote in an article from 1971, “Danny [Barker] says that the kids really had an interest in old music and second line music, but didn’t have anyone to take time with them. Danny would like to have them learn about the roots of traditional New Orleans music.” In 1973 The Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band played at the Louisiana Heritage Feat, which later became Jazz Fest, wondering the grounds in Brass Band style. The band reaped praise, “…they were young and spirited and sounded great,” wrote Joan Treadway, in a 1973 issue of the Times-Picayune. In the same article Barker reveals his pleasure in the success of the band. “Some people say that when the old musicians die, that will be the end of Jazz, but I’m proving they’re wrong.”
I asked Bruce Braeburn, respected local drummer and curator for the New Orleans comprehensive Paul Hogan Jazz Archive, if Barker was as important as writers like Brock say, after all the highest praise comes from a man who was once Barker’s agent. If one man had to be singled out for his contribution to the resurgence of brass bands and parading Braeburn told me, it would be Danny Barker. But Don’t forget, Braeburn warned me, the scene wasn’t dead before Barker, there was still plenty of music happening. Brass bands were well established. They just needed someone to reach the next generation ears.
In the late seventies, before Louisiana complied with the Right to work act for unions, union players could not play with non-union players. Barker, who was not really a member of the band, was still a part of the organization. The jazzman often march with the Fairview, who were gigging regularly around the city. Fellow Union members brought Barker before the board. His choice was to halt his role with the Church Band or be fired from the Union, which at the time would have financial suicide. Gathering the kids around, Barker said, “I have some bad news. I have to stop working with you all.” The Fairview Baptist Church Band ended, but not before hundreds of kids got schooled on their roots.
Leroy Jones, at the time a young trumpet player in the Fairview, was not discouraged. He got some other players together and formed the Hurricane Brass Band. The Hurricanes were a traditional brass band. However, Leroy continued to accelerate as a player. Promptly, Jones was able to get higher paying solo gigs. The Hurricanes broke up. Gregory Davis was invited to play with a local club’s kazoo band. The name of the club was the Dirty Dozen Social Aid and Pleasure Club. It was 1977 and the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen Brass Band was born.