The New Orleans Hustlers Brass Band, which plays Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations Saturday at the Rothko Chapel and Sunday at Under the Volcano's soul-food cookoff, has essentially called Houston home since Hurricane Katrina.
The band includes the father-son tandem of tuba player Damion Francois and trombonist Devin Francois. The elder Francois originally formed the Hustlers along with drummer Lumar Leblanc and trumpeter Marcus Hubbard, and all three continue to work with the New Orleans-based Soul Rebels.
Chatter: How did you come into the brass band world?
Damion Francois: I was basically born into it. I started playing drums at church when I was five, then all through public school I learned various brass instruments. I started playing tuba when they had too many drummers when I was a freshman in high school.
Then right out of high school, I took a six-month gig in Las Vegas and went straight from there to Germany. Now I've been doing it professionally 23 years.
Devin Francois: I just picked it up growing up. Nothing formal.
C: Brass band music is all about tradition. What were your feelings when you realized your son was interested in playing?
Damion: It's just a dream come true to play with him. And all three of my children play. My daughter plays woodwinds, [and] my oldest son, who is at Howard University in Washington, D.C., plays trumpet with the Hustlers when he's in town.
C: Do you see more young people coming into the music, or is it a vanishing thing?
Damion: Actually, more kids are picking the music up, but more in the streets and not so much in school. All of the older cats are teaching the music as much as possible. If anything is killing this music, it's the government by cutting music-education programs.
C: Can you make a living doing this?
Damion: It's gotten harder, but you can make a living. You just have to adjust and keep kickin' it.
C: Devin, have you studied the history of the music? Who are your inspirations?
Devin: I never really studied the history of New Orleans music specifically. For most of the young people, it is just something that is passed down from generation to generation, and it's something you have to want, to seek out. My inspirations are some of the older guys like Keith Anderson from the Rebirth Brass Band.
C: Will you continue with music? What's your plan after high school?
Devin: I'll definitely continue to play music, but right now I'm a junior at Cypress Springs and I'm being scouted for football, so I don't really know what is going to happen after my senior year. I plan to major in sports medicine.
C: What were your impressions of the Treme television series?
Damion: I thought it was awesome. The fact that the producers got with the musicians and portrayed the real stories, not something they made up, it gave a true perception of how being a jazz musician in New Orleans really is.
C: What's been the best thing to come out of your move to Houston?
Damion: The schools. The standards the teachers hold the kids to here are far ahead of New Orleans. My kids are going to have far more opportunity to excel by being here. And there's a very family-oriented, safer way of living here.
C: What do you guys miss most about New Orleans?
Both: The food!
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C: Devin, it seems like playing in a band with your dad and these older guys might limit you with the ladies who show up at the gigs.
Devin: I get approached by older ladies all the time, but Dad deals with that.
Nielsen SoundScan released its report on 2010 music sales last week, and recent prevailing trends continued: Sales of physical product continued to decline, offset by a continuing rise in digital sales. Overall sales of CDs, LPs, music videos, and digital albums and tracks came in at approximately 1.5 billion units, a decline of 2.5 percent from 2009. Physical album sales declined 19 percent to 240 million, but sales of vinyl LPs rose 14 percent to 2.8 million, or 1 percent of overall sales. Rap sales rose 3 percent over 2009, making it the only genre to post a gain; country had the smallest decline at only 5 percent. (Rock sales, by way of comparison, were down 16 percent.) Eminem's Recovery was the top-selling album of the year at 3.7 million copies, and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" was 2010's radio airplay champ. Houston did not make the year's Top 10 markets for music sales, but Dallas/Fort Worth came in at No. 6.