“The Maple Leaf Bar was one of the first to reopen after Hurricane Katrina by generator” with Walter Wolfman Washington doing his thing onstage, narrates The Layover’s Anthony Bourdain, as this nine-piece brass band second lines the hell out of a series of impossible notes.
That’d be the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band, and they hold down Tuesday nights, midnight to midnight, at the legendary Maple Leaf in Uptown New Orleans. The stuff of poets and dreamers, the historic nightclub on Oak Street has inspired books, stories, and late-night jam sessions with the most unlikeliest of suspects (Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, James Booker, Clarence Gatemouth Brown).
The Maple Leaf Bar has been in business since February 24, 1974, making it one of the oldest continuous music venues in the area. While many feature live music some of the time, Maple Leaf has music going on every night of the week. History is made each and every night.
From the start, movers and shakers, innovators and history-makers found a home there, including Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band, many members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Radiators and Henry Butler, Money Mike Armstrong, Beyoncé, the Iguanas, Jon Cleary and his band, the contemporary poet Everette Maddox, whose legacy left behind a poetry reading every Sunday, and countless rising artists poised to take the world by storm from neighboring universities.
Every Tuesday at midnight, the men of the Rebirth Brass Band gather onstage with their shiny instruments and take New Orleans jazz to another level. Increasingly as their horns rise to impossible heights, they seem immutably different, coming from far away angles, threatening to crash and burn, or at the very least, miss each other’s speeding, cavernous light. Yet time and time again, they meet in the corner, from their vastly divergent places of origin, to make a raw, gritty, fitting choir of rough, ragged, but sonorously uplifting, soul-splitting angels.
The Brass Band’s origins is also the stuff of legend. They’re a high school marching band, really, formed in 1983 by Philip Frazier, a tuba/sousaphone player, his brother, Keith, who plays bass drums, and Kermit Ruffins, a ferocious trumpeter. They and the other band members came from Joseph S. Clark Senior High School and gave new life to traditional second line New Orleans jazz, rounding it out with contemporary licks of urban soul and R&B funk. These guys went from a street band to major players in the jazz festival circuit, fast becoming a household name around the world.
A host of records released on smaller labels gained them world-wide attention. Starting with Arhoolie Records and moving on to Rounder Records then Basin Street Records, the prolific Rebirth Brass Band brought notice to a much-ignored musical art form and made a dent in the elusive, elitist Grammys. They won a 2012 Grammy for best regional roots music album for the 2011 “Rebirth Of New Orleans.”
Kermit Ruffins would eventually leave the band on good terms to form his own in 1994. Same with another trumpeter, Shamarr Allen, who went on to perform with Willie Nelson’s band in theater shows.
Today, the Rebirth Brass Band is tubaist Phil Frazier, bass drummer Keith Frazier, snare drummer Derrick Tabb, trumpeters Derek Shezbie, Glen Andrews, and Chaderick Honroe, trombonists Stafford Agee and Corey Henry, and saxophonist Vincent Broussard.