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Entries in Jazz (3)


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.



Thoughts on Episode 3 


Where to begin when talking about Episode 3 “The Kid is Not My Son.” I originally thought of the concept for this episode because I was always astonished with the pot dealers I knew who were always regaling me with stories of the high level people they sold to in New York. Local politicians, celebrities, District Attorneys, Wall Street execs, CEO’s, professors, you name it. So I thought it would be fun if Neptune ended up selling ganja to a high level guy who works for the NSA.

Overall in this episode we see Neptune begin his ascension as the weed dealer du jour of NYC. He starts raking in the cash and the ladies, and things become complicated quickly. I have no idea how I came up with Neptune hooking up with an older black lady, but it makes me laugh just thinking about it, so that’s what I wrote. The image of them lying together on the couch post coitus is one of my favorite parts of the episode.

We shot a ton of this episode in the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan. A highlight for me was when we shot the montage of Neptune selling weed on the LES. We tried to cover as many streets as possible, Orchard, Ludlow, Houston, Grand, etc...And of course we had to include a beautiful shot of the omnipresent Lower East side artist's Marco’s work.

Another major component of episode 3 is the music. The Hot Club of San Francisco is all over this episode, and I think really makes the episode cohesive. The Hot Club is such a tight and hard swinging band, their tunes are addicting. We’ve also got a ridiculously smokin song called Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘bout Miss Thing, from Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. The Hot Club and Lavay and her crew are based in the Bay Area but tour frequently around the US. So get your lazy ass off the couch, and check them out when they are in your town.

Reflecting upon this episode I think my favorite anecdote from those days of shooting, was for the intro. In the intro Neptune (Ashley Springer) calls the cop Julie, and realizes he has called a police station. His friend Chris (Trevour Zhou), tries to get him off the phone by hitting Neptune in the cahones. And then visa versa. So we all show up on set for the ball punching scene, and I assume that Ashley and Trevor will just kind of fake hit each other as no one really wants to get their balls punched. But method actor Trevor shows up with two nut protecting hockey cups. And handed one to Ashley, and was like “dude, we gotta make this believable, we really got to get each each other hard in the nuts if it’s gonna be funny.” So they put their cups on to my astonishment, and for the next couple hours, wailed away on each others nut sacks. It was brutally hilarious. And a wonderful intro for episode 3.



Jazz + House Parties = Happy People

Well this is just an awesome bit of news that happened over the past few days. The Undead Music Festival based in NYC thought to do the coolest crap ever, and for one of the days, the festival organized a “Night of the Living DIY” for jazz folks. It was a night of DIY jazz concerts not just at professional venues but at houses and cool spaces all over New York, the US and the globe - taking jazz back to its roots, and I will definitely participate in some way next year.

Jazz began as this kind of music; played in dingy bars, houses and in the streets. Even when it became popular, black jazz players were not allowed into venues, and frequently played house parties and supper clubs until all hours of the night. Or until they ran out of pot. Whichever came first. On a side note about the munchies, let’s talk about how much us darkies love chicken and waffles. It is delicious. This magical combination started out with jazz players, who played at these late night jam sessions at houses. The hosts usually didn’t know whether to make breakfast or dinner at 5am, so they would do chicken and waffles - the best of both worlds.

Another fun fact is that there used to be (and still are)  jazz house parties called “rent parties” where jazz cats would get together to put on a show to help the resident of that house pay the bills.

These jazz house parties still happen, but not even close to as regularly as they did in the 30’s and 40’s - there’s only one I can think of that happens regularly up in Harlem. So it’s pretty unbelievable that there’s a large orchestrated effort to encourage this again. One of my favorite quotes from the article:

“Schatz thinks traditional jazz clubs, with drink minimums and hounding wait staffs, have done as much to harm jazz's popularity as have those clubs' own scarcity. (It's why Search & Restore typically favors standing rock clubs and other alternative venues.)”

I can’t tell you how much truth there is to this. It was heartbreaking for me as a jazz player to finally get to New York to these famous jazz clubs only to be greeted by condescending staff, rude sound guys, asshole club managers, high ticket prices, and a ton of snotty customers. The vibe that some of these so called fun “jazz” places is really atrocious. I also completely agree about the alternative venues, most of the bands and musicians I played with would much rather play at any other venue than a stuck up jazz club. This is all definitely much more so the case in Manhattan, but there is a overall pandemic of the attitude of like, “well we play jazz so you can’t complain or change anything about how we run this club because we are one of the few ones left.” Which I somewhat understand, but as Shatz implies, these actions are self defeating.

Which is why this DIY concert series is so cool. Cut out the middleman. Make more money. Have people at an intimate show who actually care about the music. The end of the post mentions how with social media it is obviously much easier to organize these kind of shows to attract fans. The article also makes the direct connection that jazz players are already kind of outsiders, and house parties fit into the vibe of this wonderful counter culture.

Super cool shit. I’ll see you guys at the next jazz house party!

Here is a video link to the House Party that still goes on every Sunday in Harlem called “Parlor Jazz,” and run by the beautiful Marjorie Eliot. If you ever happen to be up in Harlem on a Sunday between 4 and 6pm please go to her welcoming house and support jazz! The show is free every week too!