On Thursday, February 25th 2016 the Rebirth Brass Band brought the New Orleans brass jazz funk scene to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. One of the many New Orleans Jazz groups I’ve been looking to see for a long time. I’ve spent a good deal of time down in the Crescent City, which has been the catalyst for my ever spiraling odyssey into Jazz music. Maybe it’s the smooth, sophisticated sound or perhaps the mellow ambiance of Jazz Clubs, but whatever it is I’m hooked on the old-soul sound that reminds us where music originated.
Not to get too off track, but New Orleans Jazz is a whole other scene. If you haven’t spent time in New Orleans, you may not truly understand brass bands and the history behind the often energetic, and soulful sound of brass instruments melding together in a symphony of organized chaos. So as much as I would love to delve into the history of New Orleans Jazz, trust me when I say, they call it the Big Easy for a reason. Whether you love it hate it, Jazz music was born on the bayou and has since given the world the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, to more recently Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton; and that’s just a small dip into the New Orleans Jazz pool.
With a little context in place, it’s hopefully easy to understand that this was an exciting night. The Dakota Jazz Club is one of the few Jazz Clubs one can find in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Lucky enough to have the radio station Jazz 88 and a community of Jazz aficioados to keep the scene alive, venues such as he Dakota and it’s St. Paul counterpart Vieux Carre are able to house an array of artists to suit all tastes.
On this unusually warm February evening, I made my way downtown to catch the second show of the night. Arriving earlier than expected I waited in the atrium, with a gathering crowd of patient show-goers for the first set to conclude. Carefully listening as the doors periodically opened, I was able to catch a glimmer of the sound I’ve waited to hear live for far too long. With excitement growing I used this reprieve to get in some quick photos before the show.
With my homework done and the first show concluded, I made my way to my favorite table. Yes, I have a favorite table...and no I’m not sharing it’s location, but know it’s perfectly positioned from the stage with a clear, unobstructed view for an optimal visual-auditory experience. As much as I love the Dakota’s simple yet classy elegance, it isn’t the first venue I’d choose to catch a New Orleans Brass Band. Maybe having caught numerous acts in their native environs marching down the side streets of the French Quarter I may have been a little spoiled, but nonetheless I was ready to feel the funk.
I ordered a Surly Hell...local craft brew and settled in as I watched the crowd take their seats. With anticipating waiters looking to grab as many orders before kitchen close I briefly glanced at the select dining menu before choosing a traditional French Cassoulet of chicken confit, duck bacon, sausage white beans and bread crumbs. Granted, a little more fancy of a meal then I’d normally have, especially seeing a brass band. I suppose I was in the mood to treat myself. With the lights dimming and my dinner soon arriving I was ready to experience the Rebirth Brass Band.
Founded in 1983 by New Orleanian brothers Philip and Keith Frazier, along with a young Kermit Ruffins on trumpet and other classmates from the Joseph S. Clark Sr. High Marching Band, the stage was set for the Rebirth Brass Band to slowly take the jazz scene back to it’s roots. 33 years, 500 songs, and 14 band members later, the Rebirth Brass Band is one of the longest running brass bands of it’s time. Having won the 2012 Regional Roots Grammy for their album Rebirth of New Orleans, and receiving honorable mentions from Anthony Bourdain to President Obama, they have successfully integrated their way into the pop culture mainstream.
Opening the second show of the night with a riveting version of Ray Charles’ I’ve Got A Woman, the show kicked off with a bang. Through the course of the evening they would seamlessly intermix jazz classics such as Duke Ellington’s Caravan, and Fats Domino’s, I’m Walking with their own brass funk hits such as Feel Like Funkin’ It Up, (I feel Like) Bustin’ Loose, Cassanova, and Do Whatcha Want. Halfway through the set the band burst into what had to be at least a 10 minute jam of Trouble, featuring an energetic and unexpected solo from trumpeter and lead vocal Derrick Shezbie.
After heating up and letting the drinks settle in, it didn’t take long for the crowd to start dancing to the signature sound that mixes jazz, soul, funk, and hip-hop with traditional brass roots. Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t your grandma's jazz; This is the raw heartbeat and soul of New Orleans. So my dear readers, if you ever make it to New Orleans on a Tuesday night, and wish to catch them in their native environment, look no further than the Maple Leaf bar where they have been performing religiously for the last 22 years.
Having to leave early due to an unexpected change in plans, the band was finishing up their signature Feel Like Funkin' It Up as I was preparing my departure. A crowd favorite, reinforced by the ever growing number of audience members taking to dancing between the rows of tables. Perhaps spurred on by the music's suggestive lyrics...and a few libations, the atmosphere at this time was what one would expect. Highly energized and looking to end the night on a high note, it was clear the evening would soon be coming to an end. My only regret is having to cut out before the highly anticipated encore which undoubtedly included New Orleans Jazz classics fashioned into the brass band's iconic style. Having missed the show's end ultimately allows my Rebirth journey to continue and with a little luck and planning, continue to New Orleans at the Maple Leaf bar.