Second Line Blues: A Brief History of New Orleans Brass

“Second line bands, the bands that march in the streets, initially was done for funerals,” Allen Toussaint said. “To march real slow on the way to the funeral and cut up on the way back. That’s how you lay the dead away—with a band. You take ‘em on out and you boogie back.”

…Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his younger brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, (now remembered as Iberville and Bienville) explored the area around the mouth of the Mississippi River, looking for good areas to claim for King Louis XIV. Iberville would found the first permanent French settlement in the Louisiana Territory in 1699, while Bienville established New Orleans in 1718.

“One old writer relates that, with the founding of New Orleans by the brothers Bienville and Iberville, there was a body of soldiers with the explorers and that a trumpet player with the military band died and was buried in the military fashion with music in the funeral procession and at the grave site,” Barker writes.

…While Barker says that other writers recall celebratory funerals by the city’s black population even during slavery, it wasn’t until emancipation in 1865 and the resulting freedoms afforded to black musicians that brass bands really took off.

…As recounted in Jazzmen, a collection of essays on early jazz written in 1939, Bolden played clubs like the Perseverance Hall, The Buzzards, and the Tin Type Hall, where “the music was mean and dirty” and the song lyrics could be confused for today’s strip club anthems.

Isidore, like other trained musicians at the time, looked down on such musicians. Barker writes that he called them “routine” as a slur because they couldn’t read music and therefore had to learn by routine. Of Bolden, Isidore told Barker, “Sure, I heard him. I knew him. He was famous with the ratty people.”

…But that kind of animosity soon fell out of favor. 

These jazz bands also competed with the brass [marching parade] bands for gigs and the rapt attentions of audiences. For the many parades and celebrations thrown by the city’s social clubs and Carnival “krewes,” jazz bands would perform on the flatbeds of horse-drawn carriages and, later, automobiles.

…The New Orleans of the ‘50s and ‘60s, like much of the rest of the country, turned away from jazz and toward R&B, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Luminaries of that era, like Toussaint and The Meters, certainly brought parade-style playing to their music. 

…The group was only together from 1970 to 1974, but during that time, Barker took a whole new generation of players under his wing.

The members of that band and the associated circle of players that sprung up around it included Leroy Jones, Branford Marsalis, and Wynton Marsalis—who would become leading lights of a new style of jazz that incorporated the popular music of the day. In the wake of the Fairview Marching Band, former members launched a constellation of brass bands that brought bebop and funk music into the mix.

,,,On Fat Tuesday, some three-hundred years since New Orleans’ first brass funeral, second liners have their choice. Both the traditionally minded Treme Brass Band and Rebirth—whose most famous line is “Do watcha wanna / Smoke marijuana”—will be performing, each group preserving and pushing the tradition forward in their own way.

Second Line Blues: A Brief History of New Orleans Brass | Reverb News

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