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New Orleans Brass Bands

Updated on September 4, 2013

The Continuity of the Brass Bands

Brass bands are an integral part of New Orleans history and are still very important to this day. While their influence waned in other parts of the country the brass bands continue to be an important part of the NOLA music scene. The bands are seen in many venues including weddings, festivals, parades, sporting events, parties and funerals.

Picture of TCB Brass band in Perfect Gentlemen Social Aid & Pleasure Club parade 2010, New Orleans by dsb nola on Flickr.

Historical Prospective

From migrant traveling musicians

Traveling musicians have been around since antiquities. Traveling from village to village and town to town they entertained people. Likewise military bands which started with armies marching to war to the beat of drums or horns. Different instruments indicated the assembling of the troops, calling to battle and also retreat. Music was used to inspire them to fight and for entertainment. Military bands morphed into marching bands in which some were brass bands. Traveling musicians were the forerunners of the street musicians. Brass bands can be marching bands and they can be street bands or they can play inside venues.

Brass bands comprise wind brass instruments with percussion, hence are pretty mobile even if they are not an official marching. Unlike the military bands woodwinds are not included.

The traditional definition of a band as opposed to an orchestra is that it doesn't have either any strings or doesn't have a large string section with violins, violas and cellos. Of course rock bands and jazz bands have strings including a piano, but I am talking the traditional definition. Also a band usually will play a less classical form of music.

Europe had many bands by the middle of the 18th century. Later many of them were affiliated with work places like textile mills, factories and mines. After the Civil War in the U.S. brass bands became very popular all over. Many military musicians once they left active duty joined up or formed bands, some of them brass bands. The popularity of brass bands spread during the later 19th century and early 20th century. They played concerts, in parades, political rallies, seaside resorts and many other occasions. At this time the famous Salvation Army band was established and conductor John Phillip Sousa's band was all the rage.

Popularity started declining after WWI. By the 1930s for various reasons, like new types of dance music and cheaper alternatives, the amount of bands became less numerous. Of course they did not disappear and were still around for those special occasions. There has been a resurgence in these bands, interest in them as a serious music form has increased with newer innovative brass bands being formed.

Brass Bands In NOLA

In New Orleans they are seen at football games, parties, the streets, parades and even the New Orleans funerals. Starting in the late 17th century black slaves on Sundays were known to congregate in an area that was unofficially called Congo Square that is now part of Louis Armstrong Park. The park is located in the historic Treme neighborhood which is not far from the French Quarter. This festive practice went on until a few years before the start of the Civil War (1861-1865). Visitors from the US and abroad made sure to stop by there along with the French Quarter to enjoy the music and dancing. In the late 19th century during the height of the brass band popularity in the U.S. Creole brass bands started playing concerts there. After the Civil War brass instruments were in abundance from returning veterans who no longer needed them. The vets needed money so the instruments began to circulate.

Like the rest of the country New Orleans began to see the growth of brass bands in the 1880s. Even though when that era ended for other places and the popularity waned. The specific culture of New Orleans music kept brass bands as an important tradition.

The unique second line brass band parades have kept the traditions of the bands in NOLA. Second line parades are when the onlookers are a part of the second line as apposed to the main line of parade marchers. They dance along the parade route with the band. This is a common occurrence in the city in different neighborhoods usually on Sundays. This is similar to the "jazz funerals". Initially mourners walk tearfully to to grave site carry the casket. The band will play solemn music for the occasion called dirges. Once the person in placed into the grave and the mourners head back is when you get the upbeat music and dancing.

Videos Of The Bands

Did You Learn Anything About New Orleans Brass Bands?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Terrific lens! I love "all things New Orleans" including New Orleans Brass Bands.

    • Yawapi LM profile image

      Yawapi LM 6 years ago

      great lens! I love the sounds of New Orleans brass bands and learned a lot from your lens - thanks!

    • jim bruce guita profile image

      jim bruce guita 7 years ago

      Very informative. It's a genre of music I know nothing about - thanks. Of course, I know NO has a great jazz history but wasn't aware of the brass band culture. The photos are great.

      Cheers, Jim