brass bands


Inside soundproof booths across the country, friends and loved ones are interviewing each other about their lives. The booths belong to StoryCorps, a project that collects the stories of everyday people in order to create an oral history of America.

Library of Congress

In certain worlds of New Orleans music, there is a special sound — a signal — which lets players know it's time to pick up their instruments and strike up the band. But where did this signal come from? We listened to chirps, whistles and musicians, hunting for this signal's origins and to learn: what is the chicken, and what is the egg?

When New Orleans musicians want to say a certain thing, instead of words, they use a four note phrase.  

“It’s a bugle call or a band call to assemble,” explains Leroy Jones.

Wendy McCardle /

This is not John Philip Sousa's band music.

Don't get us wrong, Sousa is in the pantheon of them-who-haul-brass-through-the-streets, but we suspect the maestro might be surprised by the music today. Which, if you think about it, is good.

Otherwise, there would only be the old-timey brass band idiom and the genre would have lost touch with the people. Which is precisely where this music has always lived. With military bands and civic orchestras and parades and funerals and weddings, brass band music has always been popular music.

Zak Moses

This week on Inside the Arts, we talk with playwright Jim Fitzmorris and actor A.J. Allegra about The NOLA Project’s latest productionA Truckload of Ink. It is an original work exploring massive changes at a New Orleans newspaper.

Plus, you’ll find out why a 20-piece brass band from Providence, Rhode Island calls New Orleans their sister city.  And then, we’ll tour what is now the largest recording studio in the state. 

Todd Seelie /

New Orleans thinks of brass band music as its own, the unmistakable mix of live horns and percussion, and the traditional brass band songs. But a 20-piece brass band from Rhode Island swept through town recently, with Balkan, Klezmer and Bollywood beats thrown in the mix. These Providence musicians call New Orleans their sister city, and play a different kind of brass when they're here.

Loyola University New Orleans

The Center for the Study of New Orleans at Loyola University will celebrate the Crescent City’s rich musical heritage with the second annual NolaLoyola “Beats of the Streets: The Brass Brand Tradition in New Orleans,” on Friday, Sept. 28. The full day of events is free and open to the public.