NEA Arts Magazine

Treme Brass Band

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The Treme Brass Band

The Treme Brass Band brings a little of New Orleans to the Washington, DC audience during the 2006 NEA National Heritage Fellows concert. Photo by Tom Pich

For more than 15 years, the internationally known Treme Brass Band has been part of New Orleans's sound, whether playing jazz funerals down the city's streets or performing for packed houses during their regular Friday night club gig in the Treme district. The son of noted New Orleans musician Chester Jones, Benny Jones, Sr. founded the Treme Brass Band after stints with the Olympia, Dirty Dozen, and Chosen Few Brass Bands.

After Hurricane Katrina, the bands members were scattered across the country. Most of the band eventually reunited in Arizona where they were able to get new instruments and find gigs. Many band members have now returned to New Orleans, though it remains difficult to find work. Jones explained, "Many of the clubs we play had to close down because so few people were coming to town, or they had to do renovations. Then when they started hiring cats to play, they had to pay a percentage of the door rather than a guaranteed fee. Before the storm we worked for a straight salary. It's harder that way, but that's the way it is."

In this NEA interview excerpt, Benny Jones talked about the music that influenced him and the tradition of jazz funerals.

NEA: Was the music you play unique to the Treme neighborhood or was it found throughout New Orleans?

BENNY JONES: In that neighborhood, back in the '50s and the '60s, you had jazz funerals and parades always passing by. There were a bunch of social and pleasure clubs in that neighborhood, in the Old Caledonia, at a club called the Square Deal, and so on. My father and a bunch of old musicians played a lot of jazz funerals -- when someone in a club died they always wanted a jazz funeral. On the weekends they might play for a parade. Social and pleasure clubs have annual parades every year and his band would perform. I was very inspired by that.

NEA: Have the jazz funerals changed over time or have they stayed pretty consistent?

JONES: They have changed. There are younger bands playing modern music for jazz funerals rather than the traditional hymns and dirges. When the young people have a jazz funeral they don't want sad music. They want up-tempo music. They want fast music. But we continue to play the traditional music. I tell people, "If you've got young people and you want a young band, hire a young band. If you want to hire my band, were going to play the old, traditional music on the street." I'm a traditional musician and I want to try to keep the traditional jazz funerals going in New Orleans.