What is a brass band these days?
When you think of brass bands, what do you think of? I think the majority of musicians would answer that question with Black Dyke, Grimethorpe, Cory and Brighouse and Rastrick.
A brass band is a musical ensemble generally consisting entirely of brass instruments, most often with a percussion section. Ensembles that include brass and woodwind instruments can in certain traditions also be termed brass bands (particularly in the context of New Orleans–style brass bands), but may more correctly termed military bands, concert bands, or "brass and reed" bands.
A brass band in the British tradition with a full complement of 28 players (including percussion) consists of a cornet section, a flugelhorn, a tenor horn section, a baritone horn section, a euphonium section, a trombone section including 2 tenors and 1 bass, and a tuba section – often referred to as the basses. Brass bands have a long tradition of competition between bands, often based around local industry and communities. In the 1930s brass bands thrived most with around 20,000 brass bands in the UK British-style brass bands are widespread throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and continental Europe and are also found in North America. Annual competitions are held in these countries to select champion bands at various levels of musical competence.
Personally, I have never really played in a ‘British’ brass band other than helping out a band or two from time to time, but I have played and do play regularly in a different type of brass band. If someone was to ask me the original question, I would have a slightly different answer. These are New Orleans style brass bands. The tradition of brass bands in New Orleans, Louisiana dates to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Traditionally, New Orleans brass bands could feature various instrumentations, often including trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxophones, sousaphones, and percussion. Early brass bands include the Eureka Brass Band, the Onward Brass Band, the Excelsior Brass Band, the Tuxedo Brass Band, the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the Camelia Brass Band, and the Olympia Brass Band.
The New Orleans brass band tradition experienced a renaissance, with bands breaking away from traditional styling and adding elements of funk, hip hop, and bop to their repertoires with bands such as Youngblood Brass Band and The Soul Rebels Brass Band performing covers of pop songs and bring a modern day twist of rap and influential hip hop artists into the scene. Other bands playing in this style include The Rebirth Brass Band, the Stooges Brass Band, the Hot 8 Brass Band, the Lil Rascals Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Also, a number of groups outside the United States have begun playing this style of music.
In Britain, we have a few bands that are using this style to push the boundaries of brass playing, and have had a real influence on my performing over the last few years. These bands include Hackney Colliery Band,(pictured) Riot Jazz Brass Band, Renegade Brass Band and the New York Brass Band. I would recommend you all go and listen to all of these bands, and enjoy the modern/traditional split they are managing to combine.