There’s something about bounding, bouncing, booming brass bands that somehow captures and relays something awesome that the best nights at Gwdihw all seem to have, we think.
Whether it’s been the skillful intricacy with which Broken Brass Ensemble make us want to move our feet, the unfiltered joy of a whole room guiltlessly enjoying New York Brass Band covering ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ or the bass driven Funkiness of Superchango, there’s a sense in which so much modern brass music of the ilk of Youngblood Brass Band, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Friday 15th’s Riot-Jazz headliners, Bass 12 do something that matches our idea of the best of Gwdihw.
They make a room feel bigger, they create the sweaty space around you feeling filled with a sprinkle of joyous possibility and most importantly boldly bring a loud sense of communal joy that means you don’t literally mind rubbing shoulders with dozens of other boogie bringers.
Why is that though? With such a glut of brilliant modern brass acts always stating the ‘New Orleans’ influence, we asked Bass 12 for their history of brass, and how you get from the laid back Big Easy, to in your face Riot Jazz.
At the very beginning of the 20th Century, a new form of popular music was arising in the United States of America, originating in the crescent city of New Orleans; Jazz. This music was exotic, vibrant and possessed a raw sound completely unique at the time of it’s creation. Taking elements of both European Classical and African Folk music, this clash of cultures can be linked to the majority of popular music genres since.
New Orleans Jazz Brass Bands were one of the earliest forms of jazz sub-genres to come about, taking more influence from European and American Military Brass Bands than Classical music. The term ‘Brass Band’ is used loosely here, since other types of instruments were also used, such as Saxophones and Clarinets.
These Brass Bands were the forerunners of early New Orleans Jazz ensembles, which are now commonly referred to as Traditional (or ‘Dixie’) Jazz Bands. The most common use for New Orleans Brass Bands was the ‘Second line’, a funeral march tradition which continues to this day. Some of the more notable early brass bands include, but are not restricted to, the Eureka Brass Band, the Olympia Brass Band and the Tuxedo Brass Band (who had at one time the famous Louis Armstrong as a player).
Unlike other jazz ensembles that originated from New Orleans, the New Orleans Brass Band trend never made a predominant presence outside of the crescent city and over the next few decades fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that they made a comeback with the emergence of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Taking influence from traditional New Orleans Jazz music and fusing it with more contemporary music such as Funk and Bebop, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band revolutionised the genre into a hip, upbeat style whilst still respecting its traditions.
Other bands soon followed, such as The Rebirth Brass Band and the Hot 8 Brass Band, which pushed the genre to new levels of popularity and onto a national level. Many other genres have since been incorporated, such as Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and RnB and with the help of non New Orleans groups such as the Youngblood Brass Band, the genre is now a much more recognisable form of music. It is now sometimes referred to as ‘Riot Jazz’ due to its ‘riotous’ nature.
Over the last decade it has picked up momentum in Europe with groups such as the Broken Brass Ensemble from the Netherlands and the London based Hackney Colliery Band, giving their own unique interpretations of the genre. In New Orleans, however, the New Orleans Brass Band has never been more alive, with countless bands performing all over the city and continuing to incorporate new styles of music whilst still paying heed to a music tradition that is over a century old.