The TBC Brass Band hasn’t had a regular Sunday night gig since they ended their long run at the Blue Nile earlier this year, so I was thrilled to hear that they were beginning a new Sunday night gig at Groove City up on A. P. Tureaud in the Seventh Ward, nearly across the street from Bullet’s where the Pinettes hold forth on Fridays. As I have pointed out before, brass bands seem to come into their own when they play in neighborhood bars and clubs as opposed to the bigger tourist venues. There tend to be more second-liners, a more exuberant atmosphere, and a better interplay between the band and their fans. For a first night, there was a decent crowd, and great music.
I had heard from friends in the TBC Brass Band that they were playing for some event at a place called Le Maison Creole in Harvey, a town on the West Bank, so when I left the Midsummer Mardi-Gras, I headed over there and caught up with them. I never could determine whether the event was a birthday party or a wedding reception, but the TBC band played for about 20 rousing minutes of second-lining and partying, and then headed back across the river to the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club for another gig at a party. Although it was nearly midnight, there was a fairly large crowd along Broad Street in front of the Zulu Club, and I was really quite excited. The Zulu organization, although called a social aid and pleasure club, functions more as a Mardi Gras krewe, and now I was getting to witness a party there for the first time. The band members started playing on the sidewalk in front of the club, and then we all marched into the clubhouse, which was already quite crowded with people. Perhaps because of the late hour, the TBC played a shorter set than they had at Harvey, but the crowd seemed excited nonetheless.
The To Be Continued Brass Band (or TBC Brass Band) plays every Wednesday at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, but their performance on Wednesday August 20 was special, as it coincided with the birthday of the band’s deceased saxophone player Brandon Franklin. Any TBC performance is spirited, but this night was especially significant, and they opened with a traditional reading of “Just Over In The Glory Land” as a tribute. It was a steamy hot night, the musicians covered with sweat by the second tune, but nothing stopped the second-liners and buckjumpers on the dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from members of another local brass band (without instruments) talking smack during the intermission, it was another one of those memorable New Orleans nights.
When the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Church finally ended, the Treme Brass Band came marching out of the church, and the second-line, which had already lined up outside, got underway. The Treme Brass Band was at the front, with the Baby Dolls and Zulus behind them, and then I walked with the TBC Brass Band, who were marching with the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and behind us came the Fi Ya Ya Warriors with their chief and their drummers. We marched first down to Rampart Street, past a couple of hotels where tourists were cheering from the balconies, and to the entrance of Louis Armstrong Park, which was entirely appropriate given the purpose of this festival. From there, we headed back down Rampart to Esplanade, and down Esplanade toward the old U.S. Mint where the festival stages were located. Although I had imagined the second-line as something of an artificial thing scheduled for tourists, I was pleasantly surprised to see it pick up second-liners and buckjumpers as it proceeded down Esplanade. By the time we passed through the festival gates at the Mint, there was hardly room to move. I had meant to hang out at the festival, but I soon found that all of my homeboys in the TBC were leaving out to walk back up toward the Treme, and I was tired too. It took every bit of strength I had to walk back up to the Treme Center where I had parked my car.
It was Satchmo Summer Fest weekend in New Orleans, and my friends in the To Be Continued Brass Band, or TBC, had invited me to spend the afternoon with them going around to their various gigs. They had already played several gigs before I got to New Orleans and caught up with them in the Treme neighborhood around 3:30 in the afternoon. I quickly learned that there’s really no better way to get a crash course in the unique culture of New Orleans than to spend a day with one of the city’s brass bands. During the rest of the afternoon and evening, I rolled with the TBC from a repast in Treme to a memorial block party in honor of someone who had died recently in Gert Town, to a birthday in another part of Gert Town, to a wedding in New Orleans East, to the Divine Ladies Ball at the Mardi Gras Ballroom of the Landmark Hotel in Metairie before winding things down at the Sportsmen’s Ladies event at the Autocrat Social Aid and Pleasure Club on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward. Along the way I saw much of the unique “buck-jumping” dance of New Orleans second-lining, members of various social aid and pleasure clubs, and even a few of the Indians in their elaborate hand-sewn regalia, all accompanied by the festive music of one of New Orleans’ best brass bands. The long day of music and celebration ended at 1:30 AM, as the band members and I all headed our separate ways for some badly-needed rest.
Sunday nights at the Blue Nile have been a long-running regular set for the To Be Continued Brass Band (also known as the TBC Brass Band), who are one of New Orleans’ premiere brass bands. 2014 has been a stellar year for the band so far, as they just recently performed with the legendary Wailers tag the House of Blues, and at Jazz Fest. Even more impressive is the fact that, unlike many New Orleans brass bands these days, the TBC never uses the expedient of replacing the snare and bass drums with a set drummer, or of adding electric bass or guitar to the band when indoors. The combination of authenticity and youthful street swagger is what makes the TBC Band unique. Unfortunately, with Sunday evening being a holiday evening, the Blue Nile was filled far beyond the usual crowd level on a Sunday, and there was heavy drinking going on. Although the band was great as always, I soon found myself being bumped, then pushed, then showered with liquor from people around me trying to dance or second-line while they had cups in their hands. Working my way back from the stage didn’t work, because the place was filled far beyond capacity, so reluctantly I cut my losses and left.
Originally, the Money Wasters Social Aid and Pleasure Club was to have had a second-line on Sunday, May 25th, and when I planned my trip to New Orleans, I had planned to go on it. The previous year, they had rolled with my homeboys in the To Be Continued Brass Band, and it had been a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, this year, something had happened, and the second-line was being reported as cancelled by WWOZ Radio. So, despite the beautiful weather, there was no second-line, so I parked on Elysian Fields and walked down Frenchmen Street toward the new location of Louisiana Music Factory record store. Frenchmen Street is a hotbed of night entertainment, and the best place to go for live music in New Orleans, but it is also attractive and colorful during the day as well.
Every Wednesday, the TBC Brass Band plays at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. All brass band performances are fun, but the ones in neighborhood spots like this one are particularly fun, as the band is playing for its friends, neighbors and relatives, and there’s just a different vibe from when they play for tourists in or near the Quarter. The dancing is more exuberant, the music more blazing. The crowd was full of people I recognized from other bands, the Hot 8 and the Stooges Brass Band. My homeboy Darren Towns was rock-solid on the bass drum, aided by a snare drummer and at least two cowbell players. And the cowbell players play an important role in brass band music in New Orleans, helping to convert the feel of the music from traditional marching patterns to something more Caribbean or perhaps even African. At the end of the night, the band marched to the door to lead us all out, but nobody wanted to leave. You really never do when the music and the footwork are this good.
Of course, the highlight of the night for me was getting to see my absolute favorite New Orleans brass band, the TBC Brass Band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. These young men, most of them from the 9th Ward, had only recently come together prior to Hurricane Katrina, and for a time it seemed that the storm might have brought the band’s brief existence to an end, with members scattered to other cities. But the To Be Continued Brass Band beat the odds and came back together in New Orleans, and is a group that brings a rough, defiant, hip-hop attitude to the world of brass band music. So I was somewhat amazed to hear them start their Blue Nile set with a couple of tunes from the traditional brass band and jazz repertoire, something I had never heard them do before. Their reading of “I Found A New Baby” was joyful, upbeat and flawless, with a skill that belies their youth, and was a tribute to their versatility as a band. Eventually the set moved into their usual more contemporary material, but I left at the end of their show with a whole new respect for the TBC’s musicianship.
My friend Travis and I arrived at Jackson Square and ran into my homeboys from the TBC Brass Band, who had been hired to lead a wedding procession from St. Louis Cathedral to Galvez Restaurant on the other side of Decatur Street. Of course, in New Orleans, nothing ever happens as planned, and the wedding proved to take a lot longer than expected, but seeing the comings and goings on Jackson Square on such a pleasant night was fun in its own right. One strange, wheeled contraption was comprised of a number of drums and gongs which a man was playing as he wheeled it around the square, and several groups of tourists were walking around on “haunted” or “voodoo” tours. Eventually, however, the wedding party emerged from the church with the bells ringing from the cupola, and the TBC band struck up to lead them on their way. They of course played a more traditional style than their usual repertoire, but it was still exciting. Once they arrived at the Galvez courtyard, they kept playing until everyone had entered the restaurant, and then they disappeared into the night.