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Introduction The early years of the twentieth century saw the explosive beginnings of the most culturally significant American art form, jazz. The influenceof this creative phenomenon born in New Orleans changed things for ever. The whole spectrum of music, from Tin Pan Alley to musical shows to Stravinsky and Shostakovich, reflected the spirit and sound that first found expression on the streets of a city in southern Louisiana. Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet,Kid Ory, and King Oliver achieved considerablepersonal successoutside the city. But they were the most visible members of a larger diaspora that carried the new music not only across America but to London, Paris, Cairo, Moscow, and Beijing. Almost all the practitioners of this new art form found a cradle for their burgeoning talents in the brass bands, which had been around for decades before jazz began. One hundred and thirty years later, the brass bands of New Orleans still perform the same function they always did and still provide a crucible for the seemingly inexhaustible supply of creative fire that is New Orleans music. According to contemporary accounts, the first blackbrass bands in New Orleans appear to have hit the streets in the 18705. Typically consisting of nine or ten pieces,they played whatever they couldget hired to play—dignified sonorous dirges for funerals, sprightly military marches for parades, and popular hits of the day for dances and concerts. At that time, the brass band movement, mostly fueled by amateur musicians, flourished all over America and Europe—there were bands attached to villages, churches, factories, plantations, and coalmines; they served as a creative outlet for the working man and a symbol ofcelebration and solidarity for their communities. In the beginning, there probably wasn't much difference between a brass band in New Orleans and, for example, northern England—"Shepherd of the Hills" played competently from a written score is going to sound very similar wherever it happens. What makes New Orleans brass band music unique is the way the musicians started with the same ingredients as everyone else and transformed them into avital art form. Today, a brass band in New Orleans will kick off on a bass lick, play a continuous collectiveimprovisation (no written music) and keep it going for as long as forty minutes. In northern England, the brass bands are still reading "Shepherd of the Hills." I How did this happen? In the absence of recordings, we have to rely on contemporary accountsfor the start of the process.According to Richard Knowles's excellent book Fallen Heroes (Jazzology Press) the emerging "hot" style of playing first appeared in a brass band context with the Tuxedo Brass Band, under the leadership of trumpet player Oscar Celestin, sometime after 1910. Celestin also led a hugely popular dance band, and many of the city's top players (including some early jazz legends) worked for both organizations. We can only speculate on the extent to which improvisation and swing appeared on the street in those early days, although King Oliver's 1927, recording of the march "High Society" offers a broad hint. In 1929, a film newsreel soundtrack captured the first recorded sound of a New Orleans brass band playing at a Mardi Gras parade. Although there's only a brief snatch of muffled music, a unique Crescent City characteristic can clearly be heard—the seductive, propulsive rhythmic device called the "second line beat." In simple terms, this describes a syncopated pattern on the bass drum that may be phonetically rendered as "Dah, Dah, Dah, Didit, Da!" Transfer this rhythmic feel to the horns, and the whole band swings—it makes you want to dance. Of course, there were many bands who could play both written music for formal events and, for want of a betterword, improvised "swing" for the dancing crowd. Bands that couldn't, or didn't, read music, were dismissively called "tonk" bands by more formally inclined musicians. But it was the ability and inclination to depart from the written score that made New Orleans brass bands so special. In a sense, you could describe the whole creative evolution of brass band music as the triumph of "tonk." Over the next couple of decades, there were other stylistic changes—the rich, chorale-like scoring of formal funeral dirges gave way to the simpler harmonies of Baptist hymns, apparently in response to popular preference. The function of supplying the inner harmonies (theparts between the melody and the bass line) was originally allocated to the tenor and...


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