Friday, September 02, 2005

Music to remember New Orleans by, part 1

Inspired by slacktivist's Not-So Random Ten, I'm listening to Gimme My Money Back by the Treme Brass Band right now.
You can buy it through iTunes also. Tremè Brass Band and the album Gimme My Money Back.

I saw these guys at the University of Chicago Folk Festival. Every year there are a bunch of performers over several days, and one or two performers just stand out. That year, it was this gang.

Brass bands are, of course, an old tradition in New Orleans. These are the groups that would lead jazz funerals down the streets, and they preserve a musical form connected to, but not identical to early jazz and Dixieland. It's too big, too brassy, too unrelentingly happy to be from anywhere but the Big Easy. Tremè is an old red-light district, home of the legendary Storyville. Out of the parlors of its brothels emerged the great American musical form, jazz. (Don't start with me. A perusal of my Random Tens will show that I'm only an indifferent jazz listener, but all American music, including rock, started with the popularization of jazz. Besides, many people feel that the popularity of jazz drove the rise of the blues as well.)

Tremè never really hit it big. It was economically depressed as a red light district, and the decline of prostitution didn't help. Storyville itself was redeveloped into low income tenements, and all that really remains of the old days are the two historic cemeteries. Across the street from them is Donna's, where the Tremè Brass Band plays. It's too far from Bourbon Street for any but the most determined fan to visit.

The brass bands have hung on through a lot of changes in the area, preserving one of the traditions that ties New Orleans so intimately to the nature of this country.

At the Folk Festival, they performed the classic "When the Saints go Marching In." They started off on stage, but once they got going and the audience had a feel for it, they got to marching themselves. Up and down the aisles they went, leading a growing band of audience members behind them, just like a jazz funeral should be. A jazz funeral is a celebration of a life well lived and a reminder to the people attending that life does in fact go on.

I'm sitting here listening to "Stackman" Callier and Fredric Kemp trading off on a sax break, Benny Jones, Sr. keeping the snare going behind them, and I'm wondering if they all made it out. There are a lot of funerals to play in New Orleans, and we need these guys. Someone has to help us dance as we mourn.
There are some samples available at the Arhoolie site.