As New Orleans music became more popular in the Northeast and festivals around the U.S. in the 1980s, two prominent brass bands from New Orleans took their music on the road: the Rebirth Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The truth is, both groups have much to offer, as does a third group of Crescent City-based musicians, the New Birth Brass Band.
The Rebirth Brass Band was formed in 1983 by tuba player Phil Frazier and his brother, bass drummer Keith Frazier, and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. Since the economics of keeping such a large group of musicians on the road in the '90s and into the new millennium was often a daunting task, there have been many personnel changes through the years. For example, Kermit Ruffins, now a prominent trumpeter and bandleader in his own right, worked with the Rebirth Brass Band throughout the '80s but left the group to start his own career in 1994. Similarly, trumpeter Shamarr Allen left the group to forge a solo career and has made a name for himself through theater gigs with Willie Nelson's band.
One significant break for the group came about when Allison Miner began managing them in the '80s. Through her network of contacts nationally, and internationally through her involvement with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, she was able to secure the band bookings at prestigious festivals around the U.S. and Europe. The band's discography is long and varied but began with a very small label run by musicologist Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie Records. In 1984, the band released its debut, Here to Stay, for Strachwitz's tiny label. By 1989, they landed at a then-growing roots music company, Rounder Records, to release Feel Like Funkin' It Up, and a slew of good recordings followed throughout the '90s. In 2008, they released 25th Anniversary, their 25th anniversary album, on their own label.
In the long run, it isn't the number or quality of albums Rebirth has released -- though their 2011 album, Rebirth of New Orleans, released in April 2011, did well on the jazz radio charts -- it's the great cross section of fans the band has attracted. Founder Phil Frazier has said he's proud of the diverse crowds the band regularly attracts at shows in New Orleans or anywhere else in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. A wide spectrum of ages and ethnic groups finds something comfortable and something they can relate to in the meld of classic R&B, New Orleans funk, soul, rock, and jazz the band performs. ~ Richard Skelly