Careers Chosen while in high school don’t always prove to be long-lived choices—but then, the founders of New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, didn’t start the group as a long-range career move. They did it just to play music.
The band’s original members were all in high school when they began performing together in the summer of 1983.
“When we first started, we were just playing for fun, just going down to the French Quarter in New Orleans playing for tips, just something for us to do during the course of the summer. And during the school year, we’d go out to the French Quarter as well,” says drummer Keith Frazier.
Rebirth Brass Band makes their first appearance at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest Main Stage on Aug. 10.
Those high schoolers—who included Frazier and his brother, Phil, the band’s tuba/sousaphone player, as well as trumpeter Kermit Ruffins—have gone on to become a force in the New Orleans music scene. The band has even performed—and acted a bit—on Treme, the HBO series about the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Last year, they became Grammy winners for Best Regional Roots Album for The Rebirth of New Orleans.
Rebirth began by playing a lot of traditional jazz, and over the years has built on that genre, adding new influences, and creating many original tunes with a bass-heavy, brassy sound.
“Now our repertoire of songs has really grown since we first started out. We do a little bit of everything—R&B, hip-hop, all in a New Orleans way, so we’ve grown musically that way,” Frazier says.
Strong bass and rhythm are what drive the group’s sound. Brass creates the undeniably showy top notes in this music, but it’s the heavy, insistent bass notes that get people dancing.
And the bass part is where the band begins when writing songs.
“The bass is the root of the song, the tuba part, we try to get that part of the song first. Without the foundation, you have nothing,” Frazier says.
The brotherly dynamic is at work here, too, with Keith playing bass drum, and Phil on tuba/sousaphone.
Ruffins went solo in the early ’90s, but still occasionally collaborates with the band. In fact, in recording more than a dozen albums (13, not counting compilations), the band has brought more than a couple dozen musicians through its lineup—and they all bring their own influences to the mix.
“A lot of these young guys get into the band and there’s all types of New Wave music, electronics and different things like that, so it brings a different kind of flavor to an old form of music,” Frazier says.
“Jazz has been around for hundreds of years, but we’ve added just a little bit of a new take on it [that] brings something new to it, keeps it lively and fresh,” he adds.
Rebirth Brass Band
Sat, Aug. 10, 2pm
Sat, Aug. 10, 9pm
$20 festival admission