Rebirth Brass Band hits the road

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Members of the Rebirth Brass Band were scattered by Katrina, but they are now all back in New Orleans.

At the heart of brass bands, at least brass bands from New Orleans, isn't so much the plunger-muted trumpets and trombone blasts.

It starts from the bottom up, with the thumping bass drums and tuba or sousaphones driving the syncopation.

And the tuba will take center stage when Phillip Frazier leads the Rebirth Brass Band into the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild tonight.

Rebirth will team with guitarist Chris Thomas King and the Ellis Marsalis trio to provide an eclectic evening of New Orleans music.

"It should be interesting," said the band's co-founder/tuba player Frazier from New Orleans. "We each bring something different."

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Frazier said all nine members of the band were forced to evacuate, many without their instruments.

"I put my sousaphone in my car and got out," said Frazier. "Something told me to take my instrument."

Frazier said band members were scattered from Houston to New York.

"We eventually got together for a concert in Atlanta, but now we are all back in New Orleans and things are starting to pick up. The music scene is getting stronger and many of the brass bands are coming back."

Rebirth was founded in 1983 by Frazier and his brother Keith, and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins while they were students at Joseph S. Clark High School. Ruffins left the band for a solo career in the early 1990s.

"We were all in the marching band together," said Frazier. "Then we broke off into a brass band. You couldn't help being in a brass band coming from New Orleans. Brass bands are used for everything from weddings to funerals."

In the early days, Frazier said the band was called the "Group" brass band.

"We were just a group of kids from the same high school playing. But an organization in the St. Thomas Housing Project told us we could play some of their youth dances if we changed the name of the band to Rebirth. The organization was trying to help kids in the project do better in school, get off drugs and stuff like that, so we changed the name."

Over the years, the size and roster of the band has changed and so has the music.

"We grew up listening to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and we played some of their stuff and traditional brass band stuff. The Dirty Dozen were the pioneers, but we eventually started to write our own music, which incorporated elements of hip-hop and parade marches."

Because of the music's spontaneity, Rebirth was able to attract a wider audience, both nationally and internationally. In addition to performing regularly at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Rebirth has performed at Montreaux Jazz Festival, Nice Jazz Festival and other major music events.

The group was spotlighted recently in a DVD titled "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy: The Concert for New Orleans." The benefit concert, held at Madison Square Garden, also featured Elvis Costello, Elton John, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz and the Neville Brothers.

"We are trying to be the musical face of the city," said Frazier. "Everywhere we go we let people know the city is coming back."


Nate Guidry can be reached at nguidry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3865.


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