Like New Orleans, Rebirth Brass Band serves up 'gumbo of music'

Contributing Music WriterMarch 13, 2014 

Rebirth Brass Band was formed in 1983. "We have nine people in the band with nine different musical personalities," said trombonist Stafford Agee, third from right .

PEICONG LIU

  • IF YOU GO

    Rebirth Brass Band

    When: 7:30 p.m. March 15

    Where: Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair St., Frankfort

    Tickets: $25-$45. Available at (502) 352-7469 or Grandtheatrefrankfort.org.

When you're speaking with a New Orleans musician as versed as Stafford Agee on the Thursday after Fat Tuesday, you place a few topics on hold.

His 20-plus-year tenure as trombonist with the pioneering Rebirth Brass Band, his contributions to the popular HBO series Treme and his love of mentoring the youth in his native New Orleans — all of that, for a moment, can wait. The inevitable first query dealt with Mardi Gras and the carnival spirit that came with it last week.

"Fat Tuesday went well," said Agee, 44. "It went well. We had a lot of people come to the city, and it was a very successful Mardi Gras.

"It's a great experience in that you've got a lot of people from all over the world that come in and get to see New Orleans and experience bits of music in New Orleans. We just happen to be one of the bands that they come out and see."

Rebirth Brass Band was formed in 1983 — Agee joined in 1986 — and became one of several ensembles to blend Mardi Gras' celebratory spirit and the street parading brass band traditions of New Orleans with all manner of outside influences ranging from funk to jazz to R&B and more. Agee asserted the band's inspirations are as varied as its membership.

"We're an open band," the trombonist said. "Within an open band, the members weigh all their input in on what we do and everybody puts their own personal influence into the music. I'm more into smooth jazz and old-school R&B and a lot of old funk music, like James Brown and Funkadelic, stuff like that.

"So it's like you have nine people in the band with nine different musical personalities and maybe, say, 20 different genres of music that people like to listen to. All of that is incorporated. That's how we get the gumbo of music that we have and create the style of Rebirth."

Off the bandstand, Agee was one of many Crescent City artists to take an active role on Treme, the series depicting life in post-Katrina New Orleans that recently completed its four-season run. (One of the show's stars was Georgetown resident Steve Zahn.) Agee served as a sort of conceptual stunt double for actor Wendell Pierce, who portrayed the streetwise trombonist Antoine Batiste.

"Wendell didn't want to be the trombone player that picks up the horn for the show and didn't really know what he was doing. He really wanted to learn all the technical aspects of it as a musician. He wanted to have the feel, the emotions, the body language a trombone player has when he is playing. He wanted to know more about the music. He actually learned how to read music. So as a beginning trombone player, he did really well."

To a degree, the Batiste character mirrors Agee's own life story as a child of the streets who found not only a career but a lifelong calling in music.

"Me being a lover of music and playing music, I believe, was more spiritual than anything," Agee said. "I came from a well-balanced home life and upbringing. But just seeing stuff in the street and seeing stuff that's around you, you tend to sometimes be a product of your environment. The more I was around music, the more I started to love being a creator of music.

"I have been volunteering in high schools for about six years mentoring the kids. I know how life on the streets of New Orleans can be right now because I was once one of those kids coming up in that same lifestyle. I just want to let those kids know that there is a brighter picture than what they may find in everyday life."

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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