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Composing and Arranging for a NOLA Brass Band style album

May 29th 2015


I’ve been in the studio composing for the upcoming album from the SF based, New Orleans style band, Brass Band Mission. I’ve been composing Jazz tunes since I was a young buck, but had never composed specifically for a Second Line style brass band, which has always been some of my favorite music. My favorite aspect of the Second Line brass band beat is the basic visceral feeling you get when you hear this style of music. You hear the hard bass bass drum and riff swinging snare, and you may get up and dance, yell, cry, laugh, or all of the above. The sound of the NOLA Second Line beat is unmistakable, and for me anyway, instantly washes away the stresses of life.


My goal when composing for this album was danceablity and groove. Usually the music I love, and the jazz I love in particular, swings hard as hell. So I wanted to compose something that you can feel, that makes you want to shake your money-maker.


A quick scan of popular brass band NOLA tunes from the past few years shows the variety within the genre. There’s the traditional Jazz almost Dixieland style brass band, modern brass band like Rebirth or New Birth, that mix R&B and Hip Hop with traditional NOLA jazz.


I decided to compose something funky and nasty. A hard groovin tune that would keep folks dancing on Frenchman street. Nasty sousaphone, heart-attack level loudness in the percussion, raunchy horns. Sounds like heaven.


I came up with the name “Busted Key Stomp” one day while arranging this chart. Having listened to my fair share of modern brass band songs, one thing jumped out at me is the fact that almost all Brass Band Music is in the key of B flat, which makes sense, as it’s one of the easiest keys to play in for almost all brass instruments, including trumpet, trombone, and sousaphone. But even cover songs that were on the radio in different keys, brass bands would switch their cover versions to the key of B flat. Not a big deal for your average listener, but this can be grating for me as a musician and producer to hear song after song in the same key (nerd alert).


So I decided to write Busted Key Stomp in one of the worst keys for brass players. I did this because, as a trumpet player, I love a good challenge. The song is in the key of B, which is a half step above B flat. Hence the tune title “Busted” key stomp. Also the key is really horrible for trombone players who have to use the dreaded 7th (furthest out) position on the trombone with extreme frequency.


Brass Band mission got the hang of the tune after a few run throughs, and it started come together like a party on Bourbon street.  


The album was recorded and produced at Hyde Street studios in 2015. You can check out some of the tracks including Busted Key Stomp via bandcamp.


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