The Treme Brass Band is one of the nouveau brass bands in New Orleans that owes a musical debt to both the late, great Danny Barker, who jump-started the dying brass band tradition with his Fairview Baptist Church School for Brass Bands, and the innovative Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Since the Dozen's success, a number of other bands have come up. The Treme Brass Band is one of the leaders in the genre and has featured a stellar cast of musicians, including Kermit Ruffins and James Andrews.
The Treme neighborhood in New Orleans is more than just a place, it's a feeling. It has been described by singer John Boutté in his song "Down in the Treme" about the people walking by and the music that emanates from each doorway, giving the community a sense of identity and joy. The members of the Treme Brass Band grew up with that sensibility. Music is the lifeblood of New Orleans in general and the Treme in particular, where jam sessions thrive. Just across the way, at the renowned Donna's Bar and Grill on Rampart Street, music lovers can hear local favorites, including Bob French, Sista Teedy, George French, Germaine Bazzle, or the Treme Brass Band. Bandleader and snare drummer Benny Jones might be leading the crowd in a rollicking version of the group's signature tune, "Gimme My Money Back." Bass drummer Lionel Batiste may be flirting with the ladies while he and the tuba player Kerwin James keep the beat for a variety of brass instruments, including the trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. But one thing is certain: Everyone is having a great time to the quintessential street music of New Orleans.
The brass band tradition goes back to the early days at the turn of the last century, when the bands -- always in demand -- played for parties, parades, funerals, or any occasion that called for music to accompany the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs that thrive until this day. The street parades, which often went on for hours and miles, developed their own unique characteristics that are carried on by the new generation of players.
The Treme Brass Band pays homage to its hometown heritage in many of the tunes on two CD's, Gimme My Money Back (1995) and I Got a Big Fat Woman (1996). "The Old Rugged Cross" is played in traditional dirge style, while "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" gets a souped up beat. There are allusions to historic places and events, like the "Back O' Town Blues" and the "Darktown Strutters Ball." A song made famous by Louis Armstrong gets big play: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You," along with the "Food Stamp Blues." The funky beat, brassy rhythms, and boisterous laughter announce that you are in the City That Care Forgot, and that you are listening to the new wave of brass band music, interpreted the Treme Brass Band way, as the Second Line heads out the door. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer