Kick in the Brass

Rebirth Band keep New Orleans sound alive

Longtime New Orleans ensemble Rebirth Brass Band are considered standard bearers of the city’s brass-band scene and an inspiration to a whole generation of musicians in the Crescent City and beyond. The Grammy-winning band headlines the inaugural North Bay New Orleans Festival, with authentic Creole cuisine and marching-band merriment, in Rohnert Park on Sept. 6.

Another New Orleans institution, Nita Ketner, puts the band’s influence in perspective. Ketner has lived in New Orleans off and on for 25 years and hosts the New Orleans Music Show on radio station WWOZ.

“The first time I saw Rebirth Brass Band, I didn’t know what to think,” says the Ohio-born Ketner. “I came from the land of polka music. But once I got those rhythms, I was a goner, and to this day it’s my favorite music.”

The Frazier brothers, tuba player Philip and drummer Keith, formed Rebirth in 1983 along with trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. The brothers got their inspiration from growing up on the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans. Taking in the vintage sounds of acts like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Fraziers rejuvenated the music with original songs and made the brass-band sound accessible to a new generation.

“Rebirth really modernized the sound,” explains Ketner. “They were taking what they heard in the streets, including the rap and hip-hop of the time, and they just kept their finger on the pulse.”

The band often incorporates local elements in their repertoire as well, from Mardi Gras chants to simple turns of phrase. “They could pluck out something that somebody said and just turn it into a song,” says Ketner.

The song “Do Whatcha Wanna,” for instance, came from a local Tremé neighborhood character who would yell at a young Philip Frazier to “do whatcha wanna, hang on the corner,” as Frazier drove to school.

Today, Rebirth tours the country as ambassadors of brass music. Back in New Orleans, the band’s influence is palpable. Most of the younger brass bands one hears now are playing 80 percent Rebirth songs, says Ketner.

Rebirth won their first Grammy in 2012 and appeared repeatedly on HBO’s Treme. Their 2014 release Move Your Body is one more reason why the band is the first name in brass.

The Rebirth Brass Band headline the inaugural North Bay New Orleans Festival Sept. 6, at SOMO Village Events Center, 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park. El Radio Fantastique and Dixie Giants open. 2pm. $33.