The Rebirth Brass Band

Before neotraditionalism, before smooth jazz, way before the birth of the cool was a gleam in Miles Davis's appraising eye, hell, even before Louis Armstrong hefted his first trumpet, there were bands like the Rebirth Brass Band in the city of New Orleans. Their raucous horns and slamming bass lines hark back to the time when jazz was for dancers alone, and any observer who would appreciate the stuff as some form of high art would be laughed at by even its practitioners.

Not that jazz, then or now, wasn't worthy of lofty acclaim. In fact, seemingly everywhere but its Crescent City birthplace, jazz is looked upon more as cerebral nourishment than greasy fun. But the Rebirth never forgets that the music of New Orleans has always been good-time music, even when it's the blues.

It's hard to believe now, but brass band music was tottering toward the grave when the Rebirth hit the streets in 1983. Some of the old-time bands were still hanging on, but only the Dirty Dozen had replenished the ranks since the 1950s. Now, so many groups are on the revitalized street parade scene that music critics have had to invent a whole new genre (hot brass band) to describe them. The New Birth Brass Band followed the Rebirth, and then came the Pinstripe, Hot Eight, Lil' Rascals and Lil' Stooges, all of whom regard each other as good friends but fierce musical rivals. (Incidentally, Rebirth members once considered starting a band from among their children; it was tentatively called the Afterbirth Brass Band…)

Despite losing trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins and saxophonist Roderick Paulin to solo careers, the Rebirth has survived long enough that its remaining members have become elder statesmen. Their "Do Watcha Wanna" has won a permanent place for them in the history of New Orleans music as a must-hear party number come Mardi Gras time. And because of the Rebirth, the second-line street parades have been, well, reborn.

To the uninitiated, this is not Dixieland music. This is stomping, raucous, riotous boogie. It's melodies carried by trumpets, trombone and saxophone. It's a tuba and a bass drum played so hard you're afraid the drum will snap and the tuba man's cheeks will explode. The Rebirth plays everything from originals to Marvin Gaye covers to the old standards, blues, hymns and rags that made New Orleans music famous. These are musicians from the parts of New Orleans they tell you at the hotel you'd better avoid, and they are not afraid to sing about where they come from. (Recently, the Rebirth proudly proclaimed that its latest album was the first in the history of the genre to gain a parental advisory.) Call it gangsta jazz and the Rebirth probably wouldn't take offense, but theirs is not the tired kind of cussing about murder and mayhem and bitches and hos. Generally their four-letter words are about how goddamn good they are. And they are.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax