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Make a Joyful Noise

A brief history of—and tutorial on—

modern New Orleans brass-band arranging
By Jennifer Odell

48 j a z z t i m e s • e d u c at i o n g u i d e 2 0 1 4 / 2 0 1 5
Caption goes here and here and here. Caption on one line here. Maybe to here.

credit here
hen the Stooges Brass Band For Stooges bandleader Walter “Whoadie”
performs Paul Barbarin’s classic Ramsey, an alumnus of the prestigious music pro-
homage to New Orleans street gram at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
parades, it doesn’t take long for (NOCCA), arranging usually involves embellishing
things to get loose. A trombone the basic structure of a traditional brass-band tune
growls out a raw bottom note, mid-intro. A trumpet with ideas drawn from his experience studying the
sidesteps the melody, weaving circular improvisa- wider jazz paradigm. “With ‘Paul Barbarin,’ we were
tions weaned on bop. A percussionist taps out trip- able to add some of our bebop elements and feelings
lets that swoop over and under the main rhythm, just to make it swing. We added different types of
as seemingly weightless as dancers in a second-line backgrounds than what you’d regularly hear when
parade. they originally recorded that,” says Ramsey.
While the tune retains enough of its original “The Stooges took elements of hip-hop and
form to maintain its identity as “(Paul Barbarin’s) bebop, jazz and R&B and modernized it in a brass-
The Second Line,” the Stooges’ arrangement reflects band form, so you’re gonna get a lot of different
the looser, more updated style that’s overtaken New chord changes and progressions than just a regular
Orleans brass-band culture since Barbarin recorded I-IV-V progression. That’s what makes us differ-
credit here

the song in the early 1950s. On the flip side, the ent from a lot of brass bands: the energy and the
Stooges’ original compositions and arrangements of progressions,” he adds.
more contemporary music tend to stay structurally Of course, melding different stylistic elements
rooted in the traditional New Orleans style brass- into brass-band tunes isn’t a new concept. The
band form. approach was pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s
by Harold Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band, which
… began adding R&B like the music of Ray Charles
That combination of approaches factors to the mix. By the early ’80s, the Dirty Dozen was
into the arrangements of most of the city’s top brass incorporating covers of Thelonious Monk and
bands, in large part because no matter how progres- Charlie Parker—inspiring the likes of Philip and
sive the players may be, the history of the music Keith Frazier, the tuba and bass-drum team behind
continues to flavor the arrangements. The particu- the Rebirth Brass Band, which then continued the
lars of the New Orleans brass-band vernacular—the evolution.
use of dirges contrasted with uptempo sections, for The culture of uniformed bands performing
example, or breakdowns that expand and contract hymns and standards at slower, more regular tem-
based on the progress of a moving second-line pos—often with the help of a clarinet and baritone
parade—lend a unique style to the arrangements as sax—still exists today. But the popularity of the
well. Olympia, Dozen and Rebirth helped trigger an 49
explosion of stylistic experimentation on by the rest of the band is usually flexible.
the brass-band scene. “I love it. I’m glad “We may change the background or it may
they’re doing it,” says Philip Frazier, name- stay the same. That’s spontaneous; that’s
checking the Pinettes, the TBC and the just something that comes off of you. …
Most Wanted as groups with the chops to Then after the solo section we play the head
continue pushing the music forward. together collectively and the song ends.”
Meanwhile, Ramsey, a more established In a traditionally styled brass-band tune,
member of that new wave of brass bands, the trumpet plays the melody relatively
looks to Rebirth as an exemplar of what’s straight, with only a few embellishments,
possible within the increasingly blurred Smith noted, while the clarinet plays a
boundaries of brass-band music. “The combination of obbligato and runs befit-
concept of brass-band music stays the same ting the chord changes or harmony.
no matter what music style you add to it,” A few hours after Satchmo Summerfest,
he asserts. Smith and PresHall Brass were slated to
“If you take a Bob Marley song like ‘I perform an Olympia Brass Band tribute
Shot the Sheriff ’ and put it in a brass-band set at the hall. And while there’s some flex-
arrangement, we might play the melody ibility with certain tunes, Smith noted that
twice or different things like that to fit the arrangements they’d use that evening
the brass-band format. ‘I Shot the Sheriff ’ would stick pretty close to those played by
doesn’t have a breakdown but we would Dejan’s original band. “The Olympia popu-
add one to it,” he says, referencing the larized several songs which are still played
improvisation-heavy interludes of percus- by everybody, and the arrangements they
sion, chants or horns often used when a
“The concept of did are what’s done by everybody [today],”
parade’s forward motion (or lack thereof) brass-band music he said, citing tunes like “I Got a Woman,”
warrants it. “And we know reggae’s got a “I’m Walkin’” and “This Train.” “They
certain syncopated beat, so you want to stays the same no weren’t all trad songs,” Smith noted, “but
tune the horns so they’re making a similar matter what music this band was also popular for incorporat-
syncopated sound that’s repetitive, like ing more R&B into the New Orleans brass-
‘bomp-ah … bomp-ah … bomp-ah … style you add to it.” band style, which is actually the beginning
bomp-ah.’ It’s the same vibe. It’s reggae but of the metamorphosis.”
it’s the brass-band sense of playing.” – Stooges bandleader
Walter “Whoadie” Ramsey

… Today, no brass band better
Before tweaking the tradition process employed by so many of the bands. represents the evolution from traditional
with as much success as the Stooges, Outlining the basic structure, he ex- to progressive than the Soul Rebels. Snare
however, an arranger needs a working plained, “The heads of the song are gener- drummer Lumar Leblanc and bass drum-
knowledge of the music’s fundamentals. ally played with the melody being done by mer Derrick Moss began moonlighting as
Trumpeter Will Smith is among the the trumpet player … and then you have the Soul Rebels in the early 1990s, while
city’s most accomplished brass-band the reeds, or in the real authentic, original they were members of Harold Dejan’s
players in both the traditional and more style, just the clarinet was mainly playing Olympia incubator band, the Young
contemporary styles. Smith grew up visit- obbligato. Olympia. Their alter-ego group represented
ing Preservation Hall with his older sister, “The counterpoints are done in general a desire to experiment with hip-hop and
Dodie Smith, an employee of the hall who by reed instruments, even though if you’ve pop within the brass-band format. They
helped found the New Orleans Jazz & Heri- got two or three trumpets, a trumpet can ultimately broke off from Dejan’s group to
tage Foundation. Inspired by what he saw function in that capacity. Also, you have focus on their own sound, which makes
and heard at the hall, Smith joined Danny the bass and the trombone creating a copious use of music you can find on
Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church Brass tailgating effect. The tailgate is strictly to mainstream radio. The Soul Rebels’ ar-
Band before graduating to the Olympia, the come after a phrase in a song: [The player’s] rangements, as well as their collaborations
Chosen Few and other influential groups. not gonna be making any kinds of sounds with acts like Metallica and rapper Prodigy,
During a break between sets with Pres- other than a harmony note during the underscore the vast potential for riffing
ervation Hall’s new PresHall Brass outfit at melody. After that particular part of the on the New Orleans brass-band sound
Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans this melody, then he’s playing like a dragging while venturing far outside its traditional
summer, Smith reflected on some of the kind of sound that brings it in to where the parameters.
key components of arranging in the New chord change is.” One of the Rebels’ most popular tunes
Orleans brass-band style. He emphasized He added that “whether it’s rhythmic or is a rendition of the Eurythmics classic
that this is ensemble music, a factor that if it’s just holding a note to create a chord “Sweet Dreams,” which is making its way
contributes to the group-based arranging behind the soloist,” the background played into the larger canon of New Orleans brass-

50 j a z z t i m e s • e d u c at i o n g u i d e 2 0 1 4 / 2 0 1 5
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band music as younger bands perform it left their second-line

with increasing regularity in second-line roots and strictly play
parades. It also represents the potential stage and studio per-
of almost any style of music to work in a formances). A version
brass setting with the right arrangement. featuring Leblanc and
“We had been exposed to the tune on sheet Moss also appears on

credit here
music,” says Leblanc, describing the song’s a recording helmed by
path from ’80s synth-pop to brass. “We local producer Earl
knew we wanted the bass to emulate the Scioneaux III called
sousaphone, the trumpet or trombones to #Brassft Punk#, which
emulate the synthesizer chords and guitar is exactly what the name
and piano parts. Our version also has a
dirge in it, which emphasizes the New
suggests: the music of Daft Punk arranged
in the New Orleans brass-band style.
Orleans aspect,” he says. When Scioneaux first drafted his brass ARRANGEMENTS
As for the band’s process, Leblanc says, arrangement for “Get Lucky,” the Rebels Four brass-band albums
“It’s very multi-dynamic. Everyone ar- gave it a run-through so he could see how worth studying
ranges. That’s why some pieces have more it worked. Some aspects of the translation
percussion, some have more brass, some turned out to be challenging, like places BY JENNIFER ODELL
are more jazzy.” The way he sees it, New where the drum groove would change but
Orleans musicians’ common practice of because of harmonic structures happen- Eureka Brass Band
arranging well-known pop and R&B for ing elsewhere in the music, the other New Orleans Funeral & Parade:
brass bands works particularly because of instruments would not change with the The Original 1951 Session
brass bands’ horns and rhythmic sensi- drums, something unseen in brass-band (American Music, 1994)
bilities. “It still sounds different, but if music. But Scioneaux made it work. “It Less popular than the tailgate trombone-
done right it opens their mind to a new was really just a question of analyzing centric #Jazz at Preservation Hall Vol.
the balance between how much leeway 1: The Eureka Brass Band of New
spectrum,” he muses. “And the rhythms
Orleans# but equally essential, this col-
coming from Africa, Cuba, Brazil, the is there for these guys to do their thing
lection of dirges features moving perfor-
Afro-Cuban influence from slavery—that’s and how much of the structure is there
mances from trumpeter Percy Humphrey
why we have such a lock on the rhythmic to keep the song on track being the song
and clarinetist George Lewis.
pattern to make people, as we say, ‘Shake it’s supposed to be,” he says. “There are
your body move your feet.’” times when it makes sense for it to go way
The Olympia Brass Band
Seeking out the right voicings for brass- further out and times when it has to be
Here Come Da Great Olympia Band
band arrangements of pop and hip-hop, he way more structured.”
(Preservation Hall, 1974)
adds, is often more about standard Euro- The drum notation fell on the more
Traditional repertoire meets R&B-style
pean musical training than any immersion open side of things. “Any couple of drum-
swagger throughout this classic, while
in New Orleans culture. “In the symphony mers might groove together in ways that parade staples like “The New Second
band you might have four or five different you don’t expect,” Scioneaux points out. Line” see Dejan and friends spiral
representations of percussion instruments “I didn’t actually write out specific drum through sprawling, often humorous
in the band. We were trained to listen to rhythms except on parts where there improvisations.
those little idiosyncrasies and it makes it are breaks and hits. Had I charted out
easy for us to transpose,” he says. “I might every single note of everything I might Dirty Dozen Brass Band
do a rim shot to transpose a #triple forte# have been forcing them into some kind My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now
sound that was done by a group like Chic of groove when these guys just naturally (Concord Jazz, 1984)
or James Brown. It kind of comes on the would have played something better.” Cerebral bop and exuberant brass-funk
musicians’ ability to hear the different Like the Soul Rebels’ addition of a dirge abound on this game-changer, and Kirk
sounds. Like Bruno Mars—we play that to “Sweet Dreams,” Scioneaux tossed an Joseph’s sousaphone gets an audible
tune [‘Treasure’]. We gave his voice to the element of brass-band vocabulary into boost on the remastered
trombone player because [Mars is] vocally “Get Lucky.” “There’s this tuba thing that 25th anniversary reissue.
in a range that’s not as high as a trumpet. happens in brass bands all the time where
Trombone and sax are similar but [Mars’ they go up to this high note and hit it Rebirth Brass Band
voice] has a funky sound.” twice,” he says, punctuating his thought Hot Venom
A version of Daft Punk’s massive hit with a “womp, womp” sound. Similar (Mardi Gras, 2001)
“Get Lucky” appears alongside “Trea- phrases include the crowd-hyping horn Rebirth’s Feel Like Funkin’ It Up (1989)
sure” on the Soul Rebels’ latest record- wail known as “Joe Avery,” or the tapping steered brass-band music’s sound through
ing, #Power = Power MIXTAPE#. Like of a perfect fifth chord twice in each note the ’90s, but this, the group’s first foray
“Sweet Dreams,” it’s becoming a favorite that’s used among brass-band players to into hip-hop experimentation, inspired
of younger brass bands who still play call each other, whether on a parade or at much of what today’s youngest and
parades (the Soul Rebels have long since a concert. most prolific bands are playing. 51

But trademarks like those aren’t
mandatory elements of a brass-band ar-
rangement. Rather than trying to arrange
in a style or language that may be foreign,
Leblanc and Scioneaux recommend focus-
ing on higher-level concepts, like a feel
for the city’s Congo Square-born African
rhythms or a firm grasp on the articula-
tions used by Louis Armstrong, the Meters
and the Nevilles.
In particular, Scioneaux stresses the
importance of leaving space in an arrange-
ment. “It’s wise to have as much room as
reasonable for the musicians to be able to
stretch out. And even if those musicians
haven’t been informed by the same kind of
environment that New Orleans musicians
have, that’s not necessarily the point. It’s
about people expressing themselves in a
way that feels natural,” he says.
“If you create something that allows

credit here
for that, you’re likely to get some kind of
magic to happen.” JT
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52 j a z z t i m e s • e d u c at i o n g u i d e 2 0 1 4 / 2 0 1 5
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passionate teachers…
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Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Rodney WhitakerBASS
director of jazzWhitaker
Rodney studies
director of jazz studies

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their MSU Professors of Jazz,,
reputation as ”
artists is matched only by theiras
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Be a part of it. Jazz at MSU is designed to nurture and

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