This is Louis Armstrong’s cornet, as you can see it in the Louisiana State Museum.

The first brass bands used cornets and no trumpets. The lead was always played by the cornet player.
In the early period in New Orleans they played with 2 Bb and 1 Eb cornet.
They used two solo cornets and one first cornet player. The two solo cornets would play the same part, alternating the lead and allowing each to rest. The first cornetist, who played all the time, played an easier second cornet harmony.
The Eb cornet was decline in use during the First WW years. During the 1920s there was a change in instrumentation, when trumpets replaced cornets.


Albert system Eb clarinet signed “BOOSEY & CO / MAKERS / LONDON / 12996” made c.1897.

The Eb clarinet, as opposed to the B-flat clarinet, was employed in New Orleans brass bands because of it’s higher pitch and shriller tone, which allowed it to be heard over the powerful high range brass instruments.
Together with the solo cornets, the first cornet and the alto horn, they made a four part harmony in the treble clef.

Trombone Valve

C.G. Conn 1897

The early brass bands used valve trombones. They used two trombones.
The first and second trombone had different parts and therefore played all the time. They made up a four part harmony in the bass clef with the baritone horn and the tuba. Around the turn of the century, the slide trombone came into common use.

Baritone Horn

Boston Musical Insts., ca. 1875

Baritone horn made up a four part harmony in the bass clef with the trombones and the tuba. The baritone played often the melody, and occasionally take a solo.
Punch Miller said in an interview on April 4. 1960: “Baritone always played lead, just like a trumpet”.
Also the baritone later was replaced by the saxophone.

Alto Horn

Conn 1919

Alto horn made up a four part harmony in the treble clef with the solo cornets, the first cornet and the Eb clarinet. Ricard Alexis, played the alto and described the part it played as follows: “alto came in on the after beat. It carried the band. It was the main thing in a brass band.”
Charlie Love, who also played the alto recalled he became frustrated playing the chord accompaniment and introduced a few runs.
The instrument was given the nickname “Peckhorn”, from the monotonous rhythmic punctuations on offbeats the player was required to produce.

Bb Trumpet

Conn Gold Plated Bb Trumpet 1921

One of the significant changes in instrumentation of the brass bands that occurred, was the replacement of cornets by trumpet during the 1920s.
The cornet and trumpet play the same notes and look very similar. The difference is in the shape of the tubing—cone vs. cylinder—which produces a difference in the sound quality, or timbre.

Clarinet Bb | Albert-System

This is a late 1920’s Selmer “improved” albert system clarinet.

Bb clarinet were also used in the early days of the New Orleans Brass Bands. In later years almost everybody played with Bb clarinets instead of the Eb clarinet, although George Lewis played on the first recorded brass band: Bunk Johnson’s Brass Band (1945) Eb clarinet. A year later he played the Bb clarinet with the Original Zenith Brass Band.

Alto Sax

Conn 1921

During the mid-1920s the horns were bit by bit replaced by saxophones. The shortage of horn players eventually necessitated the inclusion of the saxophones.
Manuel Perez, leader of the Onward Brass Band, may have been amongst the first brass band leaders to employ saxophones.
At first the alto sax was used in New orleans as a solo instrument and those early players didn’t want to play the “simple” chording role that the alto horns traditionally had.

Tenor Sax

1920’s Buescher True Tone tenor sax

When the tenor saxophone came into the brass bands, as told before in the mid 1920’s, they played the parts of the former baritone horns.

Bass Drum

Bass drum of Papa Jack Laine.

The oldest bands probably played with a bass drum, without a cymbal on it. The first recordings we have of the brass bands, played with the cymbal on the drum.
On an old picture of Papa Laine’s Reliance Brass Band took in 1906, we see a cymbal on the bass.

Snare Drum

Ludwig’s Black Beauty Snare Drum, 1920-1925

Together with the bass drum, the snare drum is the heart-beat of the brass band.


Buescher Tuba Serial#14548 (c. c1920-1925)

The tuba, as it is on the picture, first appeared in the brass bands, before it was replaced by the sousaphone.
A famous tuba-player of the brass bands in New Orleans was the late Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen.
Until his death in January 11, 2004 he always played the tuba.
In the beginning of the 1950’s most bands in New Orleans changed to sousaphone.


38k Conn Sousaphone, production from 1919 – 1931.

Most of the bands in the late 1940’s begin 1950’s changed from tuba to sousaphone.

It was invented by composer and conductor John Philip Sousa and instrument maker J. W. Pepper (Philadelphia). The design was adapted from th tuba and the helicon. Sousa was happy enough with the sound of the helicon in a marching situation, but was looking for a mellower sound for his concert settings. In 1893, Pepper built an instrument that allowed the bell to be pointed upwards for the concert setting and forward for the march. He called it a sousaphone to thank Sousa for his suggestions.

Slide Trombone

Conn 6H artist 1925

The slide trombone was introduced in the brass bands in de the mid 1910’s/ 1920’s.
Getting slide trombones into the jazz and brass bands, trombone players could play also the   tailgate trombone style.
This must have been a big difference with the valve trombone.
Kid Ory, was one of early pioneers of this way of playing the trombone.

So big changes were made in the instrumentation in the mid 1920’s/1920’s …

cornet → trumpet
valve trombone → slide trombone
horn section → sax section