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Treme Brass Band

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“When the young people have a jazz funeral, they don't want sad music. They want up-tempo music,” says Treme Brass Band founder Benny Jones Sr. “I tell people …'If you want to hire my band, we're 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.” Left to right: Benny Jones Sr., Alana Jones, Lionel P. Batiste Sr., Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar
Treme Brass Band founder Benny Jones Sr., Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar
Benny Jones Sr. (snare drum) and Lionel P. Batiste Sr. (bass drum), 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Benny Jones Sr. being interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Lionel P. Batiste Sr., 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
The Treme Brass Band, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Left to right: Alana Jones, Glen David Andrews, Charles Brackman, Kenneth Terry, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Left to right: Alana Jones, Glen David Andrews, Charles Brackman, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Glen David Andrews and Alana Jones, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Benny Jones Sr., 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, North Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Benny Jones Sr., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Benny Jones Sr., Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar
Front, left to right: Eddie King, Charles Brackman, Kenneth Terry, Glen David Andrews; kneeling: Bruce Brackman, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar

Benny Jones Sr. founded the Treme Brass Band in the early 1990s after playing drums in the Olympia Brass Band and leading the Dirty Dozen and Chosen Few bands. Jones' schooling in traditional New Orleans music, though, went back to his childhood.

"I started playing on pots and pans around the house because I always was surrounded by musicians," Jones told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein. "My father, Chester Robert Jones, was a drummer. He played with all the old bands, bands like the Eureka Brass Band and the Allman Brass Band. He played at Preservation Hall. My oldest brother was a drummer with a band on Bourbon Street for many years. I was born and raised in the Treme area, a neighborhood [near the French Quarter] that had lots of musicians, drummers. That's where I got my influences, from my father and my brother and all the musicians around me. …

"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 parades every year, and his band would perform. I was very inspired by that."

For the parades and social clubs, bands would play fast music – "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Second Line," "Mardi Gras New Orleans," Jones said: "real up-tempo tunes you can dance to all day long." For funerals, the musicians would play hymns and dirges on the way to the graveyard, then snappier tunes on the way back.

Jazz funerals have changed, Jones said. "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, we're 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."

Hurricane Katrina scattered the members of the band, along with many other residents of New Orleans. Jones migrated to Dallas, where he was contacted by someone in Arizona asking if he could put the band together to play. Jones managed to reunite most of the members there, and they stayed there a few months, replacing the instruments and clothing they had lost and playing some gigs. Most subsequently returned home to New Orleans. With financial help from a few small foundations, they have persevered in playing the music they love.

"I love making people happy, and I love working with the kids," Jones said. "I'm always trying to teach kids how to play the bass drum or the snare drum to try to keep the tradition going. The children are our future."

Bibliography
Adams, Lisa J. “Train from Boston ferries in jubilant crowd.” Sun, Boston (partial citation).

Discography
Treme Brass Band. Gimme My Money Back! Arhoolie CD 417.
_____. I Got A Big Fat Woman. Sound of New Orleans SONO 1029.

Watch

The Treme Brass Band performs the song 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee' at the 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Treme Brass Band, 'Gimme My Money Back,' Gimme My Money Back, 1995, Arhoolie Productions Inc., CD 417

Treme Brass Band, 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee,' Gimme My Money Back, 1995, Arhoolie Productions Inc., CD 417

Treme Brass Band, 'Chinatown, My Chinatown,' Gimme My Money Back, 1995, Arhoolie Productions Inc., CD 417

Treme Brass Band, 'The Old Rugged Cross,' Gimme My Money Back, 1995, Arhoolie Productions Inc., CD 417

Treme Brass Band, 'I Got A Big Fat Woman,' I Got A Big Fat Woman, 1992, Sound of New Orleans, SONO 1029

Treme Brass Band, 'Back of Town Blues,' I Got A Big Fat Woman, 1992, Sound of New Orleans, SONO 1029

Treme Brass Band, 'Darktown Strutters Ball,' I Got A Big Fat Woman, 1992, Sound of New Orleans, SONO 1029

Treme Brass Band, 'Saints/Mama Don't Allow,' I Got A Big Fat Woman, 1992, Sound of New Orleans, SONO 1029

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. explains how brass bands are very musically diverse, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. explains a traditional jazz funeral, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. explains how he used household items as early instruments, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. answers the question 'Where do brass bands come from?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. answers the question 'How do you give back to the community?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones Sr. answers the question 'How do you help keep traditional music alive?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones, Sr. answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, Interview by Alan Govenar